The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 22




                After Jamie’s first week at the École, the structure and schedule of his new life fell into a familiar cycle that moved with the same mechanical precision as the great, four-sided clock that resided atop a soaring tower of chiseled marble in a small park bordering the southern perimeter of the school.


                Like everything on Canon Mon Arts, the park housing the large clock was a picturesque venue where the muses of art, grace, beauty, and style seemed to dwell. Small but perfectly crafted, the park was exceptional in its elegance and design. Mature and stately trees, meticulously sculpted shrubs, inviting green lawns, and manicured flowerbeds arranged in complex geometric patterns created a landscape of serenity and beauty.


                Located in the center of the park, the slender clock tower climbed skyward, rising above the canopy of trees. And while the bells of the timepiece divided the hours into their quarters and solemnly tolled the start of each new hour, the rose marble tower it rested upon also housed a marvelous carillon that played a different song four times each day, as a reminder to the École's students of their daily schedule.


                After the clock struck six a bright and cheerful melody filled the morning air, wishing all a good day as the sleeping boys of the school were stirred awake by the Kalorians charged with getting them ready for class. At noon, the twelve tolls of the sonorous hour bell were followed by a melodious tune that accompanied the students to lunch. The merry song that played at the end of the evening meal - just after the bell tolled the eighteenth hour - ushered in their free time, while the soft nocturne that floated across the campus on the cool night breeze at the tolling of the twenty second hour reminded the students that curfew had begun, and they would be allowed one last hour awake and alone in their rooms before the bell’s twenty three deliberate and steady rings signaled lights out.


                Following the pattern thus established, Jamie became caught up in the school’s daily routine; as days turned into weeks, he soon found that he’d completed his first month at the École. He still grieved for his father and worried about Charlie, but his final days at Villa Mar Vista under Edmond Croal’s tutelage had at least prepared him somewhat for what might lie ahead. Since there was little he could do to change his present situation, he became determined to make the best of it while trying to keep his head and learn all that he could.


                Class days always began the same way: with a knock on his door, and a call to arise. More often than not, most of the boys needed extra prodding and Jamie was no exception as he tried to squeeze out every precious minute of sleep before one of the Kalorians – usually Garus – entered his room and gave him a gentle shake. Reluctantly climbing out of his bed, he would enter the hall and proceed with the rest of the students to the bath.


                Morning bath time was always a noisy and chaotic affair, and Jamie often found himself envying his friends the luxury of the senior bath. Lucas, Jeremy and Yves had referred to the littlest boys as 'the mice,' and Jamie soon learned why. After they were undressed the youngest students of the École raced around the bath chamber, laughing and playing. When they finally got into the water they would splash and squeal with delight, drenching anyone unlucky enough to be standing near them. Those boys who were a bit older than the mice were a little better, but only slightly. Often they would try to dunk each other as they jumped and jostled the other bathers. The boys who were near Jamie’s age were usually calmer, but that didn’t stop them from occasionally ganging up on another boy in an attempt to submerge him under the warm water of the bath and with all the wings beating and arms and legs flailing, anyone in close proximity could expect to be drenched. From time to time the older boys also engaged in battles using bars of soap as projectiles


                When baths were concluded, the act of getting dressed turned into sheer pandemonium as the mice, now naked and dripping, dashed about in an attempt to elude the Kalorians who tried to catch, dry, and dress them. Turning the task into a game, the mice would shriek and squeal loudly every time they eluded capture. The older boys got in on the act by snapping each other’s bottoms with wet towels, all the while ignoring their Kalorian attendant’s stern admonitions to cease their horseplay and get dressed. Anyone already dried off and dressing who suffered a moment of inattention risked a second bath if they stood too close to someone whose water-soaked wings began to flutter, filling the air with a momentary spray of water droplets.


                After a few days of getting splashed, hit with flying bars of soap and feeling the sting of a wet towel, Jamie fell into a routine that got him bathed, dressed, and out the door in the shortest possible time. Upon entering the bath, he would immediately undress and get into the water. Washing himself quickly while trying to avoid mischievous mice and airborne bars of soap, he’d emerge from the bath, retreat to one of the far corners of the room, let his feathers shed their water, and then quickly dry himself. After rapidly pulling on his dance belt and tights, one of the Kalorians would assist him with his racerback. While slipping into his tunic top and tying his sash, he’d hurry to a rack near the door that held the sandals and retrieve his pair. Finally, and not a moment too soon for his tastes, he’d slip out of the bathroom and into the hall, pausing for only a few seconds to slide into his footwear. On most days, he was one of the first students bathed and dressed. Once he had his sandals on he was off to breakfast, but not before stopping by his room to pick up his dance slippers.


                Although his first visit to the refectory had been a traumatic event, Jamie came to enjoy mealtimes. The food was excellent and after the excitement following his first appearance in the dining hall died down, the other boys didn’t bother him. But what really made mealtimes enjoyable was the fact that he got to eat with Lucas, Jeremy and Yves. After Cristophe's introduction, they’d welcomed him into their circle without hesitation, and Jamie became a fast friend to all of them. Entering the refectory, he’d walk to the far two rows of tables assigned to the dancers and then turn up the aisle separating the tables of junior and senior students. Since the senior school let out fifteen minutes ahead of the juniors – so that the upper classman could eat first – Jamie would usually find Lucas, Jeremy, and Yves at the far end of the junior table, waiting for him.


                The three boys always welcomed Jamie with a kiss; he’d take a seat and fill his plate while his friends maintained an animated conversation. He felt lucky that he’d met the boys and that they'd been willing to befriend him. They'd served as a useful source of information as Jamie navigated through his first few weeks of school, but by far it was their simple acceptance that pleased him the most.


                Two weeks after entering the school, Jamie found that his fellow students fell into three distinct camps; by the time a month had passed he became resigned to the fact that his social situation would probably remain unchanged. The first group was made up of the only friends he’d made since his arrival – Lucas, Jeremy and Yves. The second group consisted of those boys who’d taken an immediate and active dislike to him the first day he’d arrived at the school and after making repeated attempts to be friendly, he realized that there wasn’t anything he could do to change their minds.


                A few days after his arrival, Yves had confided to him over lunch that those involved in his hazing had been properly punished and given a stern warning to leave the École’s newest student alone. And although he was relived to hear it, he was disappointed to learn that Trajan and his friends had escaped any discipline. During their questioning the older boys had banded together and refused to name Trajan and his friends as co-conspirators, so they’d gotten off without even so much as a warning.


                The third group of boys – the largest by far – were those who displayed neither a like nor dislike for him. They would say 'hello' to him in the bath or halls or answer one of his questions, but after witnessing his first day humiliation, they were guarded and cautious with regard to him, perhaps fearing that that any association might cause some of his negative stigma rub to off on them. He could understand their feelings, but their attitudes and actions were the source of very lonely times when contact with his three friends wasn’t possible.


                While most of the schools and academies on Canon Mon Arts were responsible for creating their own calendar, the monthly program of studies and weekly seven-day schedule of the École’s dance academy revolved first and foremost around the performance schedule of the Mondele Royale. Days one through four began with bath time, followed by breakfast and First Practice.


                Jamie’s First Practice continued to be held in a private studio with Cristophe, whose assigned task was to teach him the proper positions and forms used in the classic style of dance performed at the Mondele. At the end of First Practice, he’d go to the refectory and join his friends for lunch. At the conclusion of lunch, he’d return to the studio with Cristophe for Second Practice. When Second Practice ended, he’d dash to the bath as quickly as possible before the queu for the showers got too long. Although all the boys took a morning bath, by the end of Second Practice they were usually hot and sweaty and showers were mandatory. When he was finished with his shower Jamie, like the other boys, would slip into his small clothes and the beige tunic all students wore when not dressed in their dance togs.


                Second Practice ended at half past three and from four to five Jamie, along with the other juniors, attended theory class where they studied topics that included the history of dance, various schools of practice, styles, and techniques, and finally the lives of famous dancers and choreographers through history. Theory class was divided into four sections using a system that was based on age and attained level of proficiency. The mice were exempt until they were seven.


                Dance theory class reminded Jamie of his lessons with Mobley, and he enjoyed them. The material came easily to him, and he didn’t consider the lessons particularly difficult. As the oldest of the juniors he could have been placed in the same theory class as Trajan and his friends, but as a white and a beginner, he rightly belonged in the class with the youngest boys. After some debate among the instructors a compromise was reached, and it was decided that he would be placed in the intermediate class comprised of boys two years his junior. Within two weeks of starting theory class, Jamie’s ability to quickly grasp and learn his lessons put him well ahead of the other juniors in his class, and his teacher – Dance Master Trousset – suggested he move into the class with the oldest junior students – a proposition Jamie found disturbing.


                Master Trousset had taken an immediate liking to his new student and when Jamie showed interest and proficiency in theory, the dance master’s positive opinion of his newest student grew even stronger. So, when Jamie politely asked Master Trousset if he could remain in his section since he liked it so much, the dance master, flattered to hear that Jamie enjoyed his class, readily acquiesced. Thus spared from being forced to attend class with Trajan and his friends, Jamie worked even harder on his lessons to show Master Trousset his appreciation. 


                After theory class came dinner, followed by four hours of free time. It was during this time that Jamie got to spend time with his three friends. Although junior and senior students were prohibited from visiting each other’s dorm rooms without permission, they were allowed to fraternize in the public areas of the school, and the boys embarked on a plan to show Jamie all the sights of Canon Mon Arts. At the twenty-second bell, all students retired to their rooms and were allowed one final hour to themselves until lights out.


                Days five and six were Jamie’s least favorite days. On day five, classes ended at the conclusion of First Practice. After lunch, those dance students scheduled to perform at the opera house that evening left the École for the Mondele Royale, to practice and prepare for the evening performance. Since this included all the senior students and the older junior students, Jamie was obliged to remain behind with the mice and any students who were excused due to injury. Activities were planned to occupy and entertain the mice, and a few times Jamie joined them: assisting their Kalorian care givers, playing games, and reading stories to the littlest ones, but he found the activities boring for a boy of twelve and, after a few weeks, stayed away. Once he stopped by the center where the injured dancers and gymnasts were treated. He observed boys soaking in warm baths, being massaged and performing exercises to improve their strength, but when it became apparent that no one would talk to him, he left and didn’t return. Evening mealtime was boring, as the dancers' tables were mostly empty except for the mice, and Jamie ate alone.


                Day six was even worst than day five, because the dancers left immediately after breakfast in preparation for the afternoon matinee and evening performance and were gone all day. Since he was restricted from leaving the campus of the school by himself, Jamie made do by using day six mornings to practice the forms Cristophe had taught him during the week, visiting the gymnasium to work on the exercise program that had been designed for him, and studying his dance theory lessons, but while all these activities occupied his time, he missed the camaraderie of his three friends.


                But day seven was the day Jamie always looked forward to and enjoyed the most. There were no practices, classes, or performances on day seven and the entire day was free for the students in all of the schools and academies to relax and enjoy. While there were planned activities for the Canon Mons Arts students if they wished to engage in them, participation was optional and many of the students – especially the dancers, gymnasts, and musicians who performed at the Mondele – simply used the day to relax and do as they wished.


                Just like other days, day seven would begin after bath time when Jamie would join Lucas, Jeremy and Yves at breakfast, but unlike the other six days when mealtimes were strictly set, the refectory meals on day seven reflected the casual atmosphere of the day. A series of trestle tables filled with cold meats and cheeses, fresh fruits, breads, salads and a variety of beverages were set up in the dining hall and replenished as needed by the kitchen staff throughout the day. Students could come and go as they pleased, eating what and when they wished, without having to adhere to any formal mealtimes.


                Starting with his first week at the school, Jamie spent every seventh day with his friends. For the first month, they stayed close to the École’s campus since, as a new student, Jamie had a few restrictions placed on him until he’d passed his probation. He also suspected it may have been due in part to Savaron Loka’s orders and, in fact, two weeks into his stay he’d been given a second cortical scan in a small examination room in the same building as the dance studios, but the scanner used on him was far less powerful than the one at Gold Glass and he easily defeated it. After the scan someone, somewhere, was finally convinced that his only talent revolved around dance and his restrictions were gradually lifted; by the end of his first month he had the same rights, privileges, and restrictions as every other student at the École.


                On a day seven, five weeks into his stay at the school, Jamie entered the refectory, took a plate and filled it from the buffet table. Seeing his friends already seated in their usual spot he joined them, accepted their kisses of welcome, and placed his plate on the table. Lucas had already cleaned his plate and was going back for a second helping, and Jamie accompanied him so that he could get something to drink and some additional fruit. Since coming to the school he found that, like all the boys, he needed a steady intake of food; he readily agreed with Lucas that all the increased physical activity burned up more energy, making frequent meals and snacks important.


                “Now that you’re off probation Jamie, I think it's time we showed you more of the mountain,” Lucas said, grinning at his friend as he piled his plate high with food.


                “I’d like that,” Jamie replied, picking up a glass of juice and two oranges. “Yesterday was so boring while you were all away performing, I almost broke down and joined the mice for a hike to the library for story time.”


                “You must have been desperate,” Lucas said, laughing.


                “I was,” Jamie replied. “You’re always busy on days five and six. I don’t think you realize just how dull it is around here when most of the students are gone and there’s nothing to do."


                “I guess not,” Lucas said, carefully balancing one final sweet roll on his plate.


                Sitting back down at the table, Lucas immediately made an announcement. “I propose,” he began with a flourish, “that we take Jamie to the Mondele Royale. We promised to show him everything, including all our secret places, so why don’t we start there?"


                “I thought we’d start at the library,” Yves said. “It may not be as beautiful as the Mondele, but there are a lot more secret places.”


                “Why don’t we do both?” Jeremy interrupted. “We have all day. We can wrap up some food up and take it with us, and that way we won’t have to come back for lunch.”


                “That would be ok if we weren’t taking Lucas,” Yves said with a sly grin. “If we tried to take food, we’d need at least ten Kalorians following us with as much food as they could carry."


                “We can go to the opera house first,” Jamie said, “then come back for lunch and go to the library.”


                “Ok,” Jeremy said. “That gives me an idea.”


                “Which is?” Lucas asked.


                “You’ll find out later,” Jeremy said, giving Lucas a wink.


                “Everything always has to be a big secret with you,” Lucas said, raising an eyebrow.


                “I just want it to be a surprise for Jamie,” Jeremy said. "I’ll tell you and Yves later, ok?"


                “Deal,” Lucas said, satisfied that he wasn’t being excluded from some grand and glorious secret.


                “Well, let's finish eating and go,” Yves said, "or we won’t have enough time to show him everything.” The boys quickly finished their breakfast and left the refectory, but not before Lucas took five more cookies and two sweet rolls, stuffing them in the pockets of his tunic.


                “For later,” he said innocently when his three friends rolled their eyes and shook their heads.


                Leaving the dining hall, the boys took a brick-paved path that led behind the school to a broad, grassy lawn edged by trees. After crossing the lawn, they approached a small, picturesque lake that bordered one of the larger parks on the mountain. On the far side of the lake, they walked through the gate at the entrance of the park. Beyond the simple elegance of the gate, it appeared to Jamie that the park was nothing more than a forest with a path cut through it, but as they kept walking, the densely packed trees thinned and the space opened up. Soon they came to an open, graveled path that formed a long, broad promenade. On either side of the pathway, the trees had been planted closely together. As they’d grown, the trees' branches had been allowed to grow together and once they’d met, they’d been pruned to create a luxuriously verdant archway that covered the path. The day was warm and bright and the sun shown through the trees, creating stippled patterns of sunlight and shadow along the path. Beyond the trees stretched lush green lawns accented with ornamental bushes and colorful flowerbeds. Looking far up the path, Jamie saw that the broad promenade terminated at a large double gate.


                As they walked toward the gate, Lucas would dash ahead of his three friends, then turn around, pause, and tell Jamie another piece of the history of the Canon Mons Arts. Once the other boys caught up with him, he’d dash ahead again and repeat the process.


                “After the residence of the Emperor moved from this hill to the newly formed Imperial Canon,” Lucas said, continuing his frequently broken narration, “academies and schools were built here to teach and train artists. Theaters, halls and museums were added, and everything on the mountain centered around art. But the most important building on the whole mountain is the Mondele Royal – the grand opera house. It was started in the reign of Emperor Oryan the first, but it took twenty years to build and wasn’t completed until his son, Enrick the Seventh, was emperor. It was placed on the highest point on the hill so that it could overlook the city, and when it was opened there was a whole month of celebrations.”


                While Lucas told Jamie the story of the Mondele, the boys continued walking up the promenade until they got to the huge gate at the terminus of the path and Jamie was able see the skill and craftsmanship that had gone into its creation. The hinges of the massive gate were anchored in two tall, thick pillars fashioned from smooth, polished blocks of granite. The gate itself was a beautiful work of art. The thick, black metal bars that formed its backbone were embellished with intricate scrolls, flowers, leaves and complex geometric patterns. Long, twisted finials that ended in sharp points capped the top of the gate. Emblazoned on the right leaf of the double gate, and shining brightly against its black ironwork, was the golden imperial crest of the Emperor, while into the left leaf, the great seal of the Empire had been set. At the side of each gate pillar and extending as far as Jamie could see, a tall, dense hedge had been planted. Carefully pruned and manicured, it was at least twelve feet tall and five feet thick, forming a living wall around the upper section of the hill and restricting entrance into the ‘Parc du Mondele,” as Lucas called it, to the gate.


                Passing through the gate Jamie realized that the gravel path they’d been treading on had transitioned into a patterned marble walkway. Lucas remained in the lead, encouraging his friends to hurry. After walking only a few feet Jamie took notice of the upward angle of the path and the fact that they were ascending a series of broad steps and landings that bent to the left and gently curved upward, following the contour of the hill it encircled. After a few minutes of climbing they came to a tall, sweeping stairway and walked up it. Once at the top of the stairs, Jamie saw an expansive lawn of emerald green grass that was circled by a walkway similar to the one they’d just traveled. It was shaped in the form of large ellipse. In the center of the ellipse was a fountain so large that all the boys in the junior section could have taken a bath in it without getting in each other’s way. Hundreds of flowers of every color and hue, along with carefully trimmed shrubs and hedges, filled the ellipse in a riot of color and form. But as grand as it all appeared, it was entirely eclipsed by the great opera house that sat on the opposite end of the ellipse.


                “The Mondele Royale,” Lucas said waving a hand in the direction of the opera house.


                “Where we perform,” Jeremy said.


                “Where you’ll perform too someday, Jamie,” Yves added, smiling.


                Jamie stood silently, transfixed by the sight. As he’d flown over the building in the hov that had transported him from Gold Glass to the mountain of the arts, the man accompanying him had excitedly pointed out the great opera house to him, but he wasn’t prepared for its true beauty and size, now that he was standing before its solid reality. The man had said it was designed in one of the early architectural styles of the commonwealth; Jamie remembered that he’d called it Early Commonwealth Rocco.


                The facade was incredibly beautiful, with so many details and embellishments it was impossible for the eye to take them all in at one time. While Jamie easily recognized the stone used in the buildings accents as some of the finest, unblemished white marble he’d ever seen, the material used to actually construct the building was unknown to him. It was a beautiful, light salmon-colored stone that appeared to actually gleam in the sunlight.


                “Almand stone, from the quarries of Tower Mount,” Jeremy said, when Jamie asked his friends.


                “It’s very rare, difficult to mine and carve, and the most expensive building material in the empire,” Yves added. “The Mondele was built with diamond stone, the rarest of all almand stone. It’s said that a salmon colored vein was discovered twenty years before the Mondele was built. When the geologists determined just how rare it was, an imperial decree reserved it for the Emperor, to be used as he saw fit. Anyone caught trying to use even the smallest amount was subject to death.”


                “The imperial palace was already under construction,” Jeremy added. “It’s also made from almand, a white almand that’s also rare, but not as rare as diamond stone. The only two buildings made completely of this color of diamond stone in the whole empire are the summer palace in Imperialas, and the Mondele. It shows just how important both buildings are to the Empire. Its called diamond stone because of how the stone sparkles in the light – like it was made from diamonds. And the color is unique. Except for the one vein, no other almand or diamond almand has ever been found in that exact color.”


                Jamie had to agree, the color was unique, and quite beautiful. The opera house, standing at the very crest of the Canon Mon Arts and overlooking the city of Küronas, made for an impressive sight. The light salmon-colored walls of the Mondele sparkled in the sun, and its pure white marble accents glowed as if illuminated from within.


                Passing over the building on the night he'd arrived; as the hov made its final approach to land near the École, Jamie had looked down on the massive structure in the rapidly fading light of sunset, but hadn’t fully appreciated its size and beauty – now he certainly could. The overall structure of the Mondele was at least six stories tall and had the appearance of a grand palace. He remembered that the building itself was shaped like a giant letter E. The front of the building formed the ascender of the letter and at its center, high atop its uppermost story, sat a large copper-clad dome that had weathered to a beautiful, pale green patina over time. The large mansard-style roof on either side of the dome that covered the rest of the front had many oval shaped windows trimmed in marble casements. The three wings, on the right, left, and center jutted out the backside of the structure.


                The only difference between the building's shape and an actual letter E was that the middle wing was longer, wider, and a story taller than the left and right wings. A small dome sat atop the far end of the middle wing. This dome’s shape and design mirrored that of the larger dome atop the main building. Emerging from the front of the building was a large porch and portico that marked the main entrance to the opera house. The portico, at least two and a half stories tall, sat atop a broad set of steps; marble columns supported its red tiled roof. An incredibly large chandelier hung by thick black chains, and although it was daylight, Jamie could imagine how beautiful it must look at night, when lit.


                The staircase they’d climbed opened directly onto a walkway that encircled the ellipse, and the boys started down it to walk toward the opera house. Yves cautioned Jamie to stick to the path, since they’d be in trouble if anyone caught them walking across the perfectly manicured lawn. As they got closer to the building, Jamie noticed that two large pedestals fashioned from the same diamond stone as the building framed the broad steps of the Mondele. Atop each pedestal was a marble statue, at least three times larger than life. The statue on the right was that of a woman in a long, flowing gown of classical design. She had a stolid, stocky frame and a plain face. Woven into her hair was a crown of flowers, and she held a small harp in the crook of her left arm. In her right hand, she held aloft a torch as if to light her way. The globe of the torch was fashioned from crystal, and made to look like a flame.


                The figure on the left was of a man dressed in the formal military attire from an age long past. He, too, had a plain face that wore a dour expression. Under his right arm he held a large, thick book and Jamie could see that the words carved into its cover indicated that it was a collection of classical literature. In his left hand, he held a torch identical to the woman’s. The names carved into the base of the pedestal indicated that the man was Emperor Oryan the First, and the woman was his wife, the Empress Aletta. The lengthy inscription below their names indicated that the opera house – started during the reign of Oryan and Aletta and completed under the rule of their son, Enrick the Seventh – had been dedicated to his beloved parents, former rulers of the empire, and generous patrons of the arts.


                “The main building holds the private art collection of the Emperor,” Yves said as they neared the steps. “It also has a formal throne room, a grand ball room, salons, and a great dining hall for the state dinners that are held before special performances. On the upper floors there’s a private residence for the Emperor and his family, if they choose to stay overnight after a performance,” Lucas said. “No one but the imperial family and the inner court are allowed there. They say the galleries are filled with the greatest art treasures of the empire.”


                “The right wing has two concert halls,” Jeremy said pointing to the right side of the building. “The left wing has three theaters – including the private imperial theater.”


                Climbing the steps, the boys reached the top landing and stood under the portico. Turning back in the direction from where they’d come, Jamie’s view took in the ellipse of the great lawn, the park the opera house sat in, and a truly spectacular view of the city of Küronas. For a few minutes Jamie and his friends stood looking out onto the city while Lucas, Jeremy and Yves pointed out various sights and locations.


                At least six of the city’s nine hills could be seen from where they stood. Not far away, on another high hill the boys referred to as the Imperial Canon, stood the Imperial Palace – a structure even larger than the Mondele Royale. From his vantage point on the porch of the opera house, Jamie could clearly see many of the public buildings, canals, bridges, and broad boulevards that made up the great city. Between the Mondele and the Imperial Palace his eyes were drawn to the great square of Ondra where a tall, slender black tower – the Tower of Agramon – stood. Jamie stared at the great monolith that reached so high into the sky its top was obscured by clouds.


                “What’s that?” Jamie asked, pointing at the dark needle.


                “No one knows,” Yves said. “It been a mystery from the time the planet was first settled. It was here when the colonists arrived. It’s solid, and has no means of entrance.”


                “Except for the windows,” Lucas interrupted.


                “You mean the faux windows,” Jeremy added. “At the very top there are supposed to be windows. You can’t see them because they’re too high up, and usually in the clouds. There were lots of attempts to open them and get inside of the tower, but they all failed. Eventually it was decided that they were faux windows that served as some sort of ornamentation.”


                “And the building next to it?” Jamie asked pointing to a low-lying black structure to the right of the base of the tower.


                “It’s called the Monastery of Infinity,” Lucas said. “It appears to have been built at the same time as the tower. It does have an entrance, but there’s nothing inside it. We’ve been there. Any citizen of the empire can go into it, but there’s nothing much to see."


                “Except the walls,” Yves added.


                “He’s right,” Jeremy said, interrupting his two friends' explanation. “It’s almost like a tomb. The walls are very thick and when you go into it, you find yourself in a large, empty room and the walls are covered with markings.”


                “What kind of markings?” Jamie asked.


                “Symbols, lines, dots – strange things,” Jeremy said. “No one knows what they mean.”


                “Not that they haven’t tried for centuries to figure it out,” Yves said. “But no one’s ever cracked the code.”


                “If there really is a code,” Lucas added. “After so many failed attempts by the most brilliant minds in the empire, it was decided that the markings must be some kind of art. No one actually believes that it’s a language anymore.”


                “Could I see it?” Jamie asked.


                “Of course,” Yves said. “We’re allowed to take trips into the city with permission, and your probation is over, so I don’t see why not. We’ll take you on another day seven.”


                “After we show you everything on the mountain first,” Lucas said. “This is your home and the more you know about it, the better – especially the special places,” he added with a smile.


                Turning their backs on the spectacular view, the boys entered the opera house through one of the tall bronze and glass doors at its entrance. As they walked into the lobby, Jamie’s three friends stood back and smiled at each other as they gave him a few seconds to take in its spectacular beauty.


                “It’s always fun to see the expression of someone coming here for the first time,” Lucas said. “It’s the second most beautiful spot in the building.”


                “The second?” Jamie asked.


                “You’ll see,” Lucas giggled, giving Yves and Jeremy a broad smile.


                “He’s right - you’ll see,” Jeremy said.


                “I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than this,” Jamie replied in an awe-filled whisper.


                The grand lobby was amazing. For one thing it was large, stretching out expansively before them. It was also quite tall, rising a full three stories. The lobby’s marble floors, columns, pilasters and statues were graceful and beautiful. Hanging from the vaulted ceiling were three great chandeliers whose cut glass crystals sparkled like diamonds.  The capitals of each column holding up the ceiling were of the most unusual Jamie had ever seen. He’d learned what Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns were from his lessons with Mobley, but these capitals were complete carved works of art. On one, the heads of four horses formed the capital and held up the ceiling; on another, a collection of musical instruments performed the same function. Each capital was covered in gold leaf, and the detail they exhibited was incredible.


                At the far end of the lobby opposite the entrance stood a grand staircase that split in two as it ascended to the upper floor. Each section made a sharp ninety-degree turn half way up and then split again as it opened onto the second floor. The most amazing thing about the staircase was that the hundreds of balusters that held up the polished marble railing were made of crystal. A large balcony, encircled by a matching crystal balustrade and marble railing, formed a square that overlooked the lobby. In the center of the staircase, a crystal chandelier – even larger than the three in the lobby – hung from the ceiling. But it was the massive statue that stood before the grand staircase that immediately caught and held Jamie’s eye.


                The large marble statue was of a handsome young man driving a beautifully carved chariot. He was dressed in the uniform of an ancient general. His armored breastplate was covered with ornamental designs. The individual thongs of the leather kilt he wore were each embellished and trimmed with small, cameo-style figures in the form of animals. Even his sandals had ornamentation. His stance was heroic and bold. In his right hand he held the reins of his team. His grip was firm, and the muscles of his arm taut. His left arm was raised high, and in his hand he held a whip. His face was strong and attractive, although there was no mistaking the determined look he projected. But the most amazing thing about the massive sculpture was the fact that the team pulling the chariot wasn’t comprised of horses, but dogs – four of them – great, monstrous, wolf-like dogs, their lips curled back in snarls, their teeth bared as if ready to attack, and their fur bristling.


                Jamie walked over to the statue and stared up at it.


                “Amazing, isn’t it?” Lucas said, coming up behind him.


                Finding it difficult for once to put his thoughts into words as he stared at the disturbing image, Jamie simply nodded his head in agreement


                “Its Enrick Blackwell – Enrick the First, the founder of the Empire,” Lucas added.


                “Sixteen years old and victor of the War of the Madmen,” Jeremy said looking up at the heroic figure on the chariot.


                “And the dogs?” Jamie said finally finding his voice.


                “The symbol of the Empire,” Jeremy said, joining Jamie and Lucas. “Empires have chosen all types of animals to represent them. Most choose heroic animals – like eagles, lions, tigers, or even dragons, but Enrick chose the wild plains dogs that were one of the native life forms on this planet. They were deadly fierce, and eventually hunted to extinction.”


                “They’re depicted here much larger than they really were, but even in real life they were huge and ferocious,” Lucas said.


                “They’re also the personal totem of the founders of the imperial house – the House of Blackwell” Jeremy added.


                Jamie nodded, remembering his lessons with Mobley, and thought of Charlie. His younger brother would have known this, and given Jamie some animated lecture about the wars of succession. The boys walked around the statue and proceeded up the steps, but as they ascended Jamie couldn’t help but look back at the chariot, its driver, and the disturbing creatures that pulled it.


                At the top of the stairs they came to a second lobby overlooking the first. Along the wall above the main door, a bank of oval windows let in an abundance of sunlight. Along the opposite wall was a series of highly carved doors with ornamental casings. Above their heads, the arched ceiling was covered with colorful frescos. To the right of the main doors was a long hallway that also had a series of doors set into it.


                In the upper lobby Jamie’s eye caught a projected image that changed every few minutes. Walking closer he could see that is was a type of hologram that turned and rotated. The changing images showed the current performers at the opera house. As he watched in fascination while the images changed, he was startled to see a picture of his three friends appear. At first he almost didn’t recognize them, but the style and color of Lucas' red hair alerted him. The three boys were in stage makeup made to look like beautiful butterflies. Their costumes were bright and bold, their faces and wings accented with glitter. The image showed both Yves and Jeremy in a synchronized mid air leap, their backs arched, their feet tightly pressed together, and their bodies floating at what looked like an impossible angle. Above them, Lucas was in some sort of spinning, prone position, that he was moving rapidly was evidenced by the slight blurring of his image. Above the image was projected the words Trio Chrysalis.


                “Trio Chrysalis?” Jamie asked.


                “That’s us,” Lucas said proudly. “That picture was taken last year at the gala performance celebrating the Empress’ birthday. We'd moved to the senior section just a week before.”


                “But you would only have been eleven,” Jamie said.


                “We told you we were good,” Yves said, smiling.


                Pulling Jamie away from the changing hologram, Jeremy led the way down the nearest hall to one of the doors. Lucas, who was walking ahead of them, pulled it open to let Jamie pass through. Crossing the threshold, Jamie realized he was standing in a box overlooking a large theater.


                “The opera house,” Lucas said with obvious pride. “Our home.”


                From his position Jamie could see the entire theater. It was a most impressive sight.


                “The third most beautiful spot in the building,” Lucas said, grinning.


                “And the first?” Jamie asked for the second time.


                “You’ll see,” Lucas chuckled.


                Jamie shook his head in disbelief. It was hard for him to imagine a view more beautiful than everything he’d already seen.


                The opera house had been built in a U shape. The stage itself was bare – it’s curtain raised – and it looked rather plain without any scenery, props or sets. In front of the stage sat the orchestra pit, and beyond it row after row of house seating ascending in stepped tiers. Built into the left and right walls and stacked atop each other like building blocks were the private boxes, each carved, gilded and sporting a different coat of arms. To the back of the theater was the loge, and a series of stacked of mezzanines. But what really caught his eye was the imperial box, sitting dead center between in the loge and mezzanine sections. It looked like a canopy-covered porch, and its ornately carved front and railing projected with a slight curve into the empty space above the floor seating. The large box could easily seat twenty people and had two thrones – one taller than the other – each with a coat of arms carved into their high backs. Two beautiful sunbursts – one set above the canopy and one on the front railing – proclaimed that here sat the Emperor, undisputed ruler of the Empire.


                “Come on,” Lucas said, touching Jamie’s shoulder. “There’s more to see.”


                Exiting through the door of the box and stepping back into the hallway, the boys directed Jamie to the end of the corridor and led him through another door that opened onto a stairwell. Going down one flight of stairs, they entered another hall and after going a few feet, approached and entered a lift. As the lift began to move, Jamie could tell it was descending. Emerging from the lift, they went through a set of doors and entered what looked like a storage room filled with a large collection of objects. Passing through it, they entered another room filled with stage lights, cables, consoles, and control panels and Jamie realized that his friends had taken him backstage. Lucas continued to lead the way until finally they were standing in one of the wings of the stage.


                 “Go onstage,” Lucas said, gesturing to the stage. Jamie, urged on by his friends, walked out of the wings and onto the main stage of the Mondele Royale and paused.


                “No, Jamie, all the way out to front center stage,” Lucas called out, pointing to the dead center of the stage. Jamie slowly crossed the floorboards of the stage, looking about. “Stop!” Lucas shouted, when Jamie reach front center. “Now, turn and face the audience.”


                As he did, the house lights came up full and he stood looking out into the theater.


                “The most beautiful view in the building,” Lucas said as he, Jeremy and Yves joined Jamie at center stage.


                “Imagine every seat filled,” Lucas said, his eyes twinkling with excitement, “and every eye on you.”


                “What an amazing feeling,” Jeremy said smiling.


                “The best,” Yves added, making a grand and sweeping bow as if an audience filled the seats and were giving him a standing ovation.


                “I can’t imagine,” Jamie said. “You sound so excited, but it scares me a little.”


                “Maybe at first,” Jeremy said, “but once you hear the applause, see the looks on their faces, and get a few bouquets thrown to you...”


                “’s the best feeling of all,” Lucas said, his voice rising in excitement. “The best!”


                “I’ll take your word for it,” Jamie said, still apprehensive over the thought of performing in such a grand place filled with a large crowd of people.


                “And just what are you little devils up to?” a sharp voice called out. Jamie jumped, but his three friends remained calm. When he turned to stage left where the voice had come from, he could see a tall Kalorian man stepping out of the shadows. The man walked onstage, approaching them.


                “We were just showing Jamie the Mondele,” Lucas said


                “Is that so?” the man said. “And just who gave you permission to come on stage?"


                “Oh come on, Timos,” Jeremy said. “We weren’t hurting anything.”


                “That’s yet to be determined,” the man said as he walked closer. “If you remember the last time I caught you here outside of a performance, you were with the elephant. Or maybe I should say, what was left of the elephant.”


                “It was an accident, Timos. You know we didn’t mean to damage anything.”


                “Nevertheless you did, and a whole new one had to be built,” the Kalorian said, not looking too pleased to see the boys.


                “How were we to know that it was built on wheels?” Lucas protested, although the laughter in his voice erased any true remorse or sincerity he might be trying to show. “We didn’t realize a small push would send it into the orchestra pit.”


                “That elephant took two months to construct,” Timos said, “and two seconds to destroy. You’re lucky that the three of you are as talented as you are, otherwise it would have been Expedition and Service for the lot of you.”


                “It was an accident,” Jeremy said, trying without success to look repentant.


                “Well, there are lots of 'accidents' that happen here whenever you three are around. And you best be leaving before any other accidents happen," Timos said, shaking his head and pointing a finger at the boys.


                “But we were just showing our friend the opera house,” Lucas said, trying to give Timos the most innocent and angelic face he could. “He’s new at the École, and will be performing here. We just wanted to show him what he has to look forward to.”


                At Lucas words, Timons approached Jamie and studied him.


                “And you are?” the Kalorian asked.




                “I see,” Timons said rubbing his chin as he gave Jamie a closer examination.


                “Just arrived, you say?”


                “Yes,” Jamie said.


                “Uhm... yes... I’ve heard about you. They say...”


                “They say he’s very talented,” Yves interrupted, guessing where the conversation was headed and trying to derail it. The boys had witnessed Jamie’s shame at the hands of his classmates. They’d also become aware of the interest others took in him when they realized he was a prince from the legendary and ancient House de Valèn. And they were keenly aware of Jamie’s discomfort at being introduced as a royal.


                “Yes,” Jeremy said, getting in on the act. “He’s a good dancer: just ask Cristophe.”


                “Cristophe?” Timos said, suddenly surprised. “And just what does the Master Prefect have to do with this?”


                “He’s giving Jamie private lessons,” Yves said, looking to Jamie and winking conspiratorially. “He’s that good.”


                Jamie gave Yves a startled look and then frowned, but the tactic worked and Timos actually seemed impressed.


                “Alright,” the Kalorian said, “show him around, and then be gone. You have thirty minutes. I’m worried even that’s too long, but I’ll give you that much. After that, I’m reporting you. We’re getting ready for the new production that starts next week and we don’t need anything damaged or it will be my head on the block,” he added, frowning.


                “We won’t touch anything,” Lucas said. “We promise.”


                “Not like I’ve never heard that before either,” Timos said under his breath as he walked offstage. Then turning, he once more pointed a finger at the four boys. “Mind what I said, now: Thirty minutes, and not one second more.”


                “Yes, Timos,” the three boys answered in unison.


                “You do that so well,” Jamie said after Timos was gone.


                “What?” Yves asked.


                “Talk your way out of things,” Jamie said.


                “Timos is right, we’re talented and you’ll learn soon enough, Jamie, that talent stands for a lot around here,” Yves answered, and as he spoke his two friends nodded in agreement.


                “Ok,” Jamie said, only half-believing his friends.


                “We want to show you the stage,” Jeremy said, changing the subject.


                “You already have,” Jamie said, “I’m standing on it, aren’t I?”


                “Ah ha!” Lucas said jumping in the air and fluttering his wings. "That’s what they all think. You’re only standing on a small part of the stage.”


                “What do you mean?” Jamie asked as he looked about the stage.


                “There are three stages on this level alone, and they move on giant tracks. The machinery controlling them is on one of the sub levels of the opera house.”


                “Not only that,” Jeremy said, “but the area you’re standing on not only revolves, it also goes up and down like a giant lift.”


                “So really, instead of just one stage there are many, and each can be placed on this level in a matter of minutes. That way an entire new stage can appear with different scenery, back drops, and even lighting at a moment's notice.”


                “Then there are the prop lifters,” Yves said.




                “Yes, they raise and lower large props and help create special effects.”


                “Like the aroplann,” Lucas said excitedly.


                “Aroplann?” Jamie asked giving his friends a puzzled look.


                “Yes an aroplann,” Lucas continued. “It was how people traveled centuries ago. It’s a lot like a hov, but much more primitive. Some of them were huge, and carried hundreds of people at a time.”


                “For one of the operas, the props department built a full size aroplann and flew it onto the stage using the lifters. It was very realistic. We came to a matinee to watch the performance.”


                “You should have seen it, Jamie,” Lucas said as the pitch of his voice rose with excitement. “There was a great roar and the building shook, and then from stage right this great machine – the aroplann – landed right here on stage!”


                “You’re really not kidding, are you?” Jamie said when he finally realized his friends weren’t trying to fool him.


                “No, it was amazing!” Yves said. “If you don’t believe us, we can show you the program."


                “Better than that, we can show you the aroplann,” Lucas said. "It’s in props storage. The opera was very popular, and I think they plan to perform it again.”


                “What was it? The opera with the aroplann, I mean?” Jamie asked.


                At his question Jeremy started to laugh. “Well, it has a strange name,” he said with a chuckle, “but it was interesting to watch.”


                “It’s called Nek Sun in Céna,” Yves chimed in and then he, Lucas and Jeremy howled with laughter at the strange sounding name.


                “Well, it is a strange name,” Jamie agreed, smiling.


                “Its a strange opera about an ancient king who goes to meet and make peace with his enemy, but the singing was good and it was worth coming to just so we could see the aroplann land on the stage.”


                After showing Jamie the various stages, and the controls that operated them, along with the prop lifers, elevators and various trap doors built into the stage they walked off stage right and took another left that descended to a lower level.


                “I thought Timos told us thirty minutes,” Jamie said.


                “He did,” Lucas said, “And we were only on stage for thirty minutes.”


                “He didn’t say anything about the lower levels, props, costumes or the super gate.”


                “We’re officially offstage,” Lucas said. “And we did as we promised.”


                Over the next hour the boys showed Jamie the areas that made up the props, costumes, lighting and special effects departments, along with a large underground warehouse where he got to see the amazing aroplann up close. It really was massive even though it only had one short wing. Jeremy explained that was because it couldn’t have landed on stage with it’s full sized wings so the wing not facing the audience had not been constructed at all and lighting was used to give the impression that it was there, while the wing on the side that everyone could see had been short but designed to give the illusion that it was much longer than it really was.


                Because Jamie was most interested in mathematics and science, the backstage and underground world of the Mondele seemed even more fantastic to him than the theater itself, and he was amazed at all the sights his friends showed him


                A few minutes into their tour Jeremy had pulled Lucas and Yves into a huddle and whispered something to them that had gotten all of the boys excited. After laughing and jumping with delight they rejoined Jamie, who was puzzled over their behavior.


                “You’ll see,” Lucas said grinning when Jamie asked what their plan was, but all three boys had refused to reveal more information.


                They seemed to be in obvious collusion as they nodded at each other, winked, and smiled. When they were through being mysterious, Jeremy dashed down one of the corridors, calling back to his friends, “This way! Follow me.”


                By the time they caught up to him Jeremy was standing at the entrance of another large underground space. Throwing a levered switch, he turned the lights on and the boys walked out into the echoing, cavernous space.


                “Do you know what it is?” Jeremy said, giving Jamie a smug look that told him he didn’t think Jamie would have a clue.


                Jamie didn’t reply; instead, he walked slowly up to the massive object that occupied most of the center of the huge chamber and stared at it carefully as he examined its many parts and controls. Still quiet, he began to circle the object. By now, Jeremy’s look of self-assurance began to fade because as he watched Jamie walk around it, his friend touched and examined it as if he knew exactly what it was. By the time he’d made one circuit of the object and was once again standing directly before it, his friends were surrounding him. Turning to Jeremy, Jamie gave him a wide-eyed look. “It’s a gate,” Jamie said in a whisper, “I never knew there was one this big.”


                “It’s a super gate,” Jeremy began to explain. "It’s used to move all the large props into the theater. Things like the aroplann and other large objects are created other places and brought here. There are only four of these gates in the empire. One is here.”


                “Another is in Imperialas,” Lucas continued. “The third is in Lothar city and the fourth is outside of Tower Mount, near Angel’s Fall.”


                “There were plans to build more,” Yves said, "but since the interdict on gate travel was proclaimed, all gate construction has ceased.”


                As the boys talked, Jamie only half heard them as he continued to examine the giant gate. He was about to make another circle of the gate when he saw something that caused his hearts to soar with hope: there, beyond the super gate, stood a standard gate. Now totally ignoring his friends, he walked up the smaller gate and examined it. It seemed to be functional, and using the powers of his mind to make a quick scan of the coordinates he was able to confirm that not only did it work, but that it was in fact one of the true universal gates of the Empire. And while he didn’t think he had the power to activate the super gate, he certainly could access the standard gate.


                “It’s just a smaller gate – nothing special,” Jeremy said, coming up behind Jamie and surprised that his friend would suddenly seem more interested in it than the impressive super structure. “It’s like any other gate.”


                Jamie couldn’t summon the words to speak to his friends, for suddenly he realized that here, standing before him, was a portal to Charlie. The quick, impulsive side of him wanted to immediately activate it and escape to Ghröum, but his more logical side told him to be patient. Just knowing that he might have a chance gave him renewed hope that just maybe, the plan he and his father had discussed might one day succeed.


                “It’s all amazing,” Jamie finally managed to say.


                “Well, it’s time for lunch,” Lucas said, “And we wanted to show Jamie the library this afternoon, so let's go back and eat.”


                “Always thinking of your stomach,” Yves said, giving Lucas a grin.


                “And here’s the best part of all,” Jeremy said, exiting the large room and heading down a small corridor to the left of the large gate room. “Come on,” he shouted.


                “Where? I thought we were going back to the École to eat,” Jamie asked.


                “Just follow me,” Jeremy said. “We found this a few weeks ago, right before you came. It’s something we’ve been wanting to show you.”


                Following the sound of Jeremy’s voice, the boys entered the corridor. After they caught up with Jeremy, he led them through a maze of tunnels. They walked the tunnels for quite some time until they came to what appeared to Jamie to be a dead end. After a grin and a brief dramatic pause, Jeremy touched the wall and a door slid open


                “Where does this lead to?” Jamie said, now even more confused and suddenly fearing his future plans might be in jeopardy if they were caught.


                “You’ll see soon enough.” Jeremy said. Finally they turned down another tunnel, and Jeremy stopped.


                Just as Jeremy had earlier, Lucas touched a spot on the wall and a hidden door opened into a small room. The room was empty, but on the opposite wall there was a door. Jeremy smiled as he gestured to the door. “Why don’t you see where it leads?”


                Jamie walked across the room, cautiously opened the door and cried out in surprise, “We’re back at the École!”


                “The tunnel leads from the Mondele to the school,” Jeremy said. “Actually, there are lots of tunnels throughout the mountain. We’ve been exploring them. We even started making a map,” he added, smiling.


                Once they were all through the door, they were standing in one of the first floor halls of the school. Jamie recognized it as the same one that held the studio where he practiced with Cristophe. When he realized where he was, a sudden smile came to his face.


                “That’s not all,” Jeremy said. “There’s also one from the senior and junior dorms to the school, and one that connects both dorms to each other."


                The boys walked into the refectory, stopping at the buffet table to fill their plates before taking their usual seats, but as they ate and chatted about their discoveries Jamie remained quiet, his head filled with thoughts and ideas. He felt like his friends had just given him a great gift – one that he might not be able to use immediately, but one that certainly had possibilities.


                After lunch the boys left the refectory and headed to the library, which was on the other side of campus. As they walked, their trek took them past a large square plot that had been laid out in the form of a formal garden. A group of Kalorians was working in it. Four men were trimming the small, low hedges that bordered the many brick-paved paths that crossed and intersected within the garden like a maze. Within the spaces defined by the hedges were a multitude of flowers planted in geometric patterns that were a treat to the eye.


                Three Kalorian women were on their knees, weeding the beds. The day was warm and the men had taken their shirts off. As he got closer, Jamie could see the sweat beading on their tanned backs. The women were dressed in light cotton shifts and wore large straw hats; he could see from the wet stains on their dresses that they, too, were sweating profusely.


                Jamie slowed down and watched the Kalorians at work; when he was finally close enough he stopped and stared, observing their actions. After a few seconds passed, a movement in the corner of he eye caught his attention. He turned and saw a very old, decrepit woman slowly making her way toward the garden. She was slightly stooped over, and in one hand she tightly gripped a crude walking stick. Her gait was slow and she was having difficulty, not only because she was old and arthritic, but also because in her other hand she was carrying a large bucket filled with water that sloshed with her every step.


                That she was overheated and exhausted was quite obvious to him. He continued to stare at her for a few more seconds as she tottered into the garden and set the bucket down near one of the other women, and only then straightened painfully to take a few deep breaths. The woman who had been working on the flower bed got up, gripped the handle of the bucket, lifted it, and began to carefully pour the water on a patch of flowers she’d recently finished weeding. When she was done watering the flowers, she set the bucket down, went back down on her knees and resumed her task of weeding. The old woman picked up the bucket and slowly began to make her way back from where she'd come.


                Since Jamie had been following his friends, they didn’t immediately notice that he was no longer with them. Turning around to talk to him, Lucas was surprised to see him still standing near the garden, watching the Kalorians. Calling out to Yves and Jeremy, he headed back to Jamie. The other two boys followed.


                “Come on, Jamie,” Lucas said impatiently. “We want to show you the library.”


                As if he hadn’t heard Lucas, Jamie asked them, “Why isn’t anyone helping her?”


                “What?” Yves asked, puzzled at Jamie’s unexpected interest in the Kalorians. After all, there were hundreds of them working on the mountain.


                “Why isn’t anyone helping that woman?” Jamie said, pointing to the old woman. “It's obvious she’s very old, and has trouble carrying that water bucket. She can hardly walk and besides, it's far too hot out here for her to be working.”


                “No one’s helping her because they all have their own jobs to do,” Lucas said matter of factly, surprised at his friend's concern. “They’re not allowed to help each other, or they’d get punished. They each have a task, and they’re expected to get it done.”


                “But it’s not right,” Jamie said. “If she were living in one of the Kalorian settlements in Isewier, she wouldn’t be working at all. Her children or grandchildren would do the work, and she would be at home resting. All the older Kalorians in the settlements only do what they can; most are cared for by their families and live a peaceful life until they die. No one in any of the Isewierian settlements would allow someone as old as her to do heavy work – especially on a hot day like this.”


                “There are no families here,” Jeremy said, sounding puzzled. “They’re just slaves, and they have tasks to do. If they don’t do them, they’re punished. I mean, it's...”


                But he stopped when Jamie, apparently no longer listening to him, walked into the garden and approached the old woman. She’d stopped walking and had placed her bucket on the ground. As Jamie approached her, she was pulling a cloth from her dress pocket and began to wipe her tanned and wrinkled face. Oblivious to Jamie, the woman startled when she realized someone was standing next to her. Her expression grew even more surprised when she realized it was a young Avionne boy.


                “Silana va desta, Mala,” Jamie said quietly to the woman and then, without a second's hesitation, he bent over and picked up the bucket.


                The other Kalorians stopped their work and watched him intently.


                “Where are you getting the water?” Jamie asked, returning to human speech when he realized he’d violated one of the rules.


                The old woman and the other Kalorians continued to stare at him.


                Once again he asked the question. After a few seconds passed, the old woman raised her hand and pointed. Turning, Jamie saw a small pipe with a spigot coming up from the ground. The grounds had an automatic watering system that turned on at night; this garden didn’t seem to be connected to it, and so the flowers and plants needed to be watered by hand.


                “Wait here, Mala,” Jamie said, smiling at the woman, and then he strode out of the garden and over to the pipe. After filling the bucket, he began to carry it back. It was heavy, and some of the water sloshed out of it, but it was mostly full when he brought it back to the garden. Sitting it down in front of one of the women who had been weeding, he looked up at her.


                “Etet,” he said.


                The woman, like the other two who had been kneeling, was now standing and staring intently at him – as were the men.


                “Here,” he said, again in human speech, pointing to the bucket. “You can water the flowers.”


                Still staring at him, the woman bent down and picked up the bucket. She walked toward a patch of flowers and began to pour it out, never taking her eyes off the Avionne boy. When it was empty she stood as still as a statue, clutching the handle of the bucket as she stared down at Jamie.


                Jamie took a few steps forward, reached down and took the bucket from her hand, turned and made another trip to the water pipe. This time he called for his friends to help him. Lucas, Yves and Jeremy stood in disbelief, their mouth’s agape.


                “Come on,” Jamie said. “Help me.”


                The three boys looked at each other. Then, as if in a trance, they approached their friend.


                “Help me,” Jamie repeated, looking at Lucas. “You take one side and I’ll take the other. And there’s another bucket over there." Jamie pointed to an overturned bucket under a nearby tree. "You and Jeremy fill it and bring it over,” he said to Yves.


                With Lucas' help, Jamie took the second bucketful into the garden, this time spilling much less since he had help. Yves and Jeremy, still wearing surprised looks, brought the next bucket. After twenty minutes, all the flowers had been watered.


                “Fanat!” Jamie said. Then, smiling at the old woman, he added, “Silana va desta, Mala.” He turned and walked out of the garden, his bemused friends in tow. “Ok, now lets go to the library,” he said calmly.


                At first his friends stood unmoving; then as if stirred out of a trance, they headed off toward the Library.


                “Why did we do that?” Yves asked, sounding confused and puzzled. “They were doing their jobs – the jobs they’re supposed to do. Why did you help them?”


                “She was an old woman,” Jamie said calmly, “Certainly you could see how hard it was for her to carry the bucket.”


                “So?” Lucas said, sounding a bit annoyed that he’d been co-opted into a project he hadn’t volunteered for.


                “So, if Castor ever saw me walking by our cook, Annamera, when she was struggling with a heavy bucket like that, he’d have peeled my skin off inch by inch. And Annamera’s a lot younger than that old woman. Even in the settlements, if I watched while someone old, or injured, or sick perform a task without at least offering, or trying to help them... well...”


                “’ve done this before?” Jeremy asked. “You’ve done manual labor?”


                “Of course,” Jamie said without hesitation. “In the settlements, everyone helps each other. It would be considered rude to watch another work without helping. Especially an older person.”


                “But you're a royal, a prince, a de Valen,” Lucas said. “You, of all people...”


                “That doesn’t mean anything,” Jamie said, now chuckling in amazement at how his actions had generated such a surprising reaction from his friends. “In the settlements, one person doesn’t watch while others work.”


                “But they’re slaves,” Yves said.


                Jamie stopped walking and stood silently. It took a few seconds for the boys to realize he wasn’t moving, and they also stopped. Although he was only a few feet away from them, Jamie walked up closer to his friends, suddenly not so sure that they were his friends anymore. But that wouldn’t stop him from saying what he had to say.


                “They’re people, Yves,” Jamie said softly, but there was an unspoken tension in his voice. “They’re not slaves, they’re people,” he repeated looking at the three boys. And standing there, he began to tell them about the many Kalorians, his friends, who he knew and loved. He told them about the household staff at his home. He told them about Castor, who ran the house and cared for him along with Annamera, the cook who always snuck him a few extra treats and candies even when he’d been punished, and Jokum, who’d taught him to ride. He told them about his friends in the settlements: the dances and feasts and how they’d always cared for him, not because they were slaves and had to but because they were his friends and really loved him, just as he loved them. When he was finished talking, he was met with a stony silence and for a long time the three other boys looked at him.


                “I never thought of it that way,” Yves said, breaking the silence when he finally understood Jamie’s deep concern for the people he’d always thought of as slaves. “I didn’t mean...”


                “I know you didn’t,” Jamie said. “You never thought of them as people before now, did you?”


                “No,” Lucas said, “I mean, they’ve always been here with us, doing their work. I really don’t know any of them very well – even Jakobus, who I see every day. Avionnes and Kalorians may live together here on the mountain, but I don’t know any who are friends.”


                “Until I came here, I never knew any who weren’t my friends,” Jamie said quietly.


                “I’m sorry,” Yves said, genuine contrition in his voice.


                “It’s ok,” Jamie said, quickly ready to offer forgiveness. He didn’t want to lose his only friends. But, to underscore his point, he added hopefully, “But you think differently now, no?”


                A few more seconds of silence passed until Lucas replied, “Yes, I do think differently. Really, I do. I never thought...”


                “We never thought of it your way, Jamie,” Jeremy interrupted Lucas. “But it makes sense.”


                “It does make sense,” Yves said, nodding in agreement.


                The worried look on Jamie’s face vanished as a smile came to his lips. “I’m glad,” Jamie said, but as quickly as his smile appeared, it vanished and his expression changed. “But there’s something else.”


                “What?” Yves asked.


                Jamie paused and looked intently at his friends. He was about to take a big step. Would they take it with him? “The Kalorians aren’t the only ones who are slaves,” he blurted out.


                “What do you mean?” Jeremy asked.


                “What about us?”


                “Us? Slaves?” Lucas said, but the smile that started to come to his face vanished when he looked at the sober look on Jamie’s face.


                “How free are you?” Jamie asked.


                “We’re free,” Jeremy said, as a defensive tone entered his voice.


                “Are you? Are we?” Jamie said. “If that’s true, tell them you want to leave the school. Tell them you don’t want to dance anymore.”


                “But we like dancing,” Lucas said in protest. “It’s what we know. It’s what we do.”


                “Fine,” Jamie said, “Then tell them you want to dance the dances you wish. Tell them you want to live off of the mountain. Tell them you want to be independent, to be paid for your work. To choose to dance when and where you want.”


                “But we can’t...” Lucas began to say, but Jamie stopped him.


                “That’s right, you can’t,” Jamie said. “When people must obey every order of another, when they must do everything as they are told, when they can’t live where they want, and do what they want, but must do everything they are told, how free are they?”


                The boys looked at him in silence.


                “No,” Jamie said, “We’re slaves too. They treat us better because we perform, and create, and amuse them. We’re their little pets. If I’m wrong, prove it to me. Quit the school, leave Küronas, and go to Tower Mount or Imperialas to perform the dances you wish to dance. Live in your own house, as I did. Come and go you please.”


                “He’s right,” Yves said quietly to Lucas and Jeremy. “I never looked at it that way. None of us have, and I’m sure no one else at the École, or on the mountain, or in the guilds, has either.”


                “I don’t know about that,” Jamie said. “I just know what I am now... what we are. I was born free to do as I wished. I had to obey my Father and Castor and their rules, but that was different. I could do as I pleased – just as any human boy can who lives in a normal family.”


                “You really mean all of this, don’t you?” Lucas said, puzzled by Jamie’s words and his logic.


                “You don’t have to believe me, Lucas, but please just think about it. Just watch how we’re treated... all of us. If I'm wrong, I’ll welcome the proof, but until then I will always believe... no, I’ll always know that we are just as much slaves as the Kalorians. Ok?”


                Jamie’s three friends stood silently thinking.


                “It’s a lot to understand,” Jeremy said slowly.


                “You don’t have to dwell on it now,” Jamie said. “I only ask you to think about. That’s all. Fair enough?”


                “Sure, fair enough,” Lucas said, then he shifted on his feet and the look of concentration on his face rapidly dissolved into an inquisitive look. “When we were helping the Kalorians, what language were you talking?” he asked.


                “Kalorian, of course,” Jamie said nonchalantly, not thinking anything of it.


                “They have their own language?” Lucas said, sounding surprised.


                “Yes,” Jamie said. “You’ve never heard them speak it?”


                “They only speak the same language we speak,” Yves said.


                “They have their own language,” Jamie said.


                “And you speak it?” Jeremy asked.




                “You said sara da vara,” Jeremy said.


                “I said silana va desta. It means have a good day, and you say it as a greeting.”


                “You also called the old woman Mala,” Yves said.


                “It means ‘mother,’” Jamie said. “It’s used as a sign of respect for an older woman. It doesn’t mean she’s my mother, but that I respect her age as an elder, and one with more wisdom than me. Marlla also means mother, but a real mother – what a child calls his mother – Marlla.”


                “Marlla,” Jeremy repeated.


                “Silano va desta,” Yves said, his tongue seeming to become tied in a knot as he clumsily attempted the words.


                “Silana va desta,” Jamie said more slowly, and Yves tried again.


                “Could you teach us?” Lucas said, casting an eager and excited look at Jamie.


                “It’s forbidden to speak that language here,” Jamie said. “I got in trouble the first day I was here when I spoke it to Jakobus. And it’s only spoken privately among Kalorians in the settlements.”


                “We didn’t ask you that,” Jeremy asked, sounding annoyed. “We asked if you could teach us to speak it.”


                “I guess,” Jamie replied, now puzzled at his friends sudden interest.


                “It would be great to speak in a secret language,” Lucas said, giving Jeremy and Yves a wink.


                “It’s not a secret language – all Kalorians speak it,” Jamie said. “Just not publicly.”


                “Then it’s a secret language, Jamie,” Lucas said, laughing. “For someone so smart, sometimes you can be dense.”


                Jamie blushed as his three friends laughed. “Ok, I’ll teach you,” he said, smiling. “Now, can you show me the library?”


                “Last one there’s got feather rot!” Lucas said, laughing and jumping in into the air. Stroking his wings, he soon rose above the treetops. The other three followed and within a minute were landing on a grassy knoll. No sooner had they landed than a man appeared from a nearby building. They stopped when he called out to them.


                “I want your names, immediately,” he said, frowning. “You know you’re not to fly around the campus.”


                “We’re sorry,” Lucas said putting on what Jamie had come to learn was his contrite expression.


                “Sorry or not,” the man said, “I’ll be reporting you. Now, your names.”


                All four of them gave the man their names. He also demanded to know what academy they were from and when they told him the École Danse, he paused and looked closely at them.


                “Yes, I recognize you three,” he said, looking at Yves, Lucas and Jeremy. “You’re Trio Chrysalis, aren’t you? I’ve seen you perform at the opera house.”


                “That’s right,” Jeremy said, his eyes brightening. “Did you like our performance?”


                “Absolutely,” the man said, as a smile came to his face. “You three are amazing! I didn’t think any one Avionne could move like that, and to see three of you dance the way you did...well, I’d love to see you perform again, but it’s an emperor’s own ransom to get a ticket for even the worse seat in the house.”


                “How would you like one for center orchestra?” Lucas quickly replied, now grinning at the awestruck man.


                “I can’t afford one for the back row of the last mezzanine, let alone the orchestra.”


                “I can get you one – a gift.” Lucas continued, now giving the man what Jamie had come to think of as his "sweet innocent boy" face.


                “I’d love to see another performance,” the man said wistfully.


                Lucas reached a hand into the pocket of his tunic and when he withdrew it, he was holding a ticket.


                “Center orchestra,” he said, smiling.


                “This is real?” The man said suspiciously, staring at it. But as he grasped for it Lucas, in a much practiced move, quickly snatched it away from the man’s reach.


                “Quite real,” Yves said.


                “If you don’t report us,” Jeremy added raising an eyebrow.


                The man stood silently for a few seconds, then nodded.


                “Deal?” Lucas said, holding the ticket out to the man.


                Once more the man reached for it. Once more Lucas pulled it away.


                “Deal?” he asked again.


                “It’s a deal,” the man said, sounding annoyed after again reaching for the ticket, only to have it pulled away yet again by Lucas.


                “Just remember,” Lucas said leveling an unblinking gaze upon the man. “If you take the ticket and still report us, you’ll have to explain how you came by it.”


                The man gave Lucas a puzzled look, then when the reality of the boy’s words sunk in, his face assumed a dour expression. “So it’s blackmail, then?” he said flatly.


                “No,” Lucas said, now broadly smiling. “You want to see the performance, and we don’t want to get reported. It’s a fair exchange, no?” This time when he held out the ticket, he made no attempt to dance away from the man.


                The man put his fingers on the ticket and slowly slid it out of Lucas slender fingers. Lucas smiled. The man looked carefully at the ticket and then placed it in his pocket. “Get out of here,” he said gruffly. “If I catch you again...”


                “You’ll want another ticket,” Lucas said chuckling.


                The man flinched. Lucas' remark hit home as surely as if he’d just lobbed a rock at the man’s head. The man had accepted a bribe, and now he was faced with the implication that these young Avionne boys had sniffed him out. The boys also knew it. It was the reason for the sweet smiles that now bloomed on all three of their faces, and in viewing their behavior, Jamie finally fully realized what had happened. And it suddenly occurred to him that this wasn’t something new for his three friends, but a well practiced maneuver. Without saying another word, the man spun on his heels and walked back into the building he’d come from.


                "Where did you get the ticket?" Jamie asked after the man was finally gone.


                "We always have one or two," Jeremy said. “They don’t get us out of every scrape we get into, but they do come in handy."


                Then, appearing as cool as three cubes of ice, the boys pointed out the library and began walking, calling out for Jamie to follow them. But while Jamie shook his head in disbelief, the feeling that he’d indeed been lucky to make friends with Yves, Jeremy and Lucas – Trio Chrysalis – began to sink in while he suppressed an admiring smile and hurried quickly to catch up with his friends – his true friends.


                The library was a large building of classical design, but not quite as ostentatious of some of the other buildings on the mountain, and Jamie assumed that since it was a repository for books its design was of a more utilitarian nature - until he passed through the building's front door.


                The lobby of the library was an expansive atrium that held a large and shallow pool, bordered on three sides by the six levels of floors that looked out over it. Jamie was surprised to see that there were an abundance of paintings and sculptures – many more than he’d have expected in a library. Large sections of walls were covered with maps, and tapestries. Ancient battle uniforms and antique weapons, carefully preserved, lined other sections of wall, and old battle flags and standards flew overhead. It was clear that even the library – like most of the buildings on the mountain – also served as a museum.


                The collection of books the library housed was remarkable, but even more amazing to Jamie were the informatics stations in the many alcoves that were located on each of the floors.


                “You’re allowed to use these?” he asked excitedly.


                “Of course,” Lucas said, “Students can use them. They’re controlled by the school, so we only have a limited access to information, but we can use them whenever the library is open.”


                Jamie nodded but said nothing, realizing that in one day his friends had given him two precious gifts: a window to the information of the empire, and a gateway to his beloved brother.


                Over the course of a few hours, the three boys showed Jamie their secret hiding places, including a tunnel that also took them back to the school. As he emerged from the tunnel with his head almost ready to explode with the possibilities he was envisioning, Jamie entered the school and with his three friends walked into the refectory...and froze. The four boys looked around the large dining hall that was now completely empty and then turned, wide eyed, to each other.


                “It's later than we thought,” Jamie said softly.


                “We missed dinner,” Lucas said.


                “We missed curfew,” Yves added.


                “We’re dead,” Jeremy whispered when the door to the kitchen located at the far end of the dining hall opened and Jakobus stepped through it.


                “Come here. Now,” Jakobus said sternly.


                The boys slowly crossed the refectory floor and stood quietly before the frowning Kalorian.


                “Follow me,” he said abruptly, and then turned and walked back into the kitchen.


                The four boys, expecting a dressing down by Jakobus, shot each other puzzled looks.


                “The pot sink,” Yves said softly to his friends.


                “No, he’s too mad at us to give us something that easy,” Jeremy said. “It’s going to be the stables,”


                “For six months,” Lucas groaned.


                But the boys were surprised when Jakobus stopped in front of the small table that the kitchen staff used to eat their meals and told the boys to take a seat. They were even more surprised when one of the cooks placed large plates of hot food in front of them.


                “It’s poisoned,” Jeremy said. “He’s so angry, he’s had them poison our food.”


                “Stop being so dramatic,” Yves said. “It’s not poisoned.”


                “It’s delicious,” Lucas said with his mouth full. “It’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten.”


                “You always say that,” Jamie said, suppressing a laugh when he looked up at the still stern-faced Kalorian.


                The boys, ravenously hungry from their adventures, quickly ate what had been placed before them. They were wiping their faces with napkins when Jakobus reappeared before them.


                “To your rooms,” Jakobus said. “Now!”


                The boys jumped at the sound of Jakobus voice, but quickly obeyed. Lucas, Jeremy and Yves rushed through the kitchen and headed toward the senior dormitory. Jamie walked back through the door into the refectory since it was the quickest route to the junior dormitory. Half way across the refectory, he heard the kitchen door creak and turned back to see Jakobus standing and staring at him. He took one look at the man and froze. Still wearing a scowl, Jakobus folded his arms across his chest.


                “The woman you helped today...” he said, his voice suddenly becoming low and soft.


                “Yes?” Jamie said, puzzled at Jakobus' sudden interest.


                “She’s my mother,” the Kalorian said in a soft whisper, as if he might be overheard.


                Standing as still as a statue, Jamie stared at Jakobus. When he finally understood the barely heard words, he nodded.


                “To bed,” Jakobus said, his voice once again taking on a sharp and harsh tone as he barked out the order.


                Jamie quickly dashed across the refectory, passing through the large double door of the dining hall. Jakobus watched the young Avionne boy disappear into the hallway. The doors swung back and forth on their hinges for a while, breaking the silence of the room.


                For a long minute Jakobus stood quietly looking at the doors, his arms still folded over his chest, his expression pensive. The summer sun was low in the sky was just about to set, and his eyes were drawn to the long shadows that fell across the dining hall making patterns of light and dark on the rows of tables as the fading light of evening streamed through the tall clerestory windows high above his head.


                “Bal nege. Sleep well, little prince,” he said softly to the empty room, just before he turned and re-entered the kitchen.