The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'



Chapter 23



A voice, sharp with irritation and impatience, echoed through the room: “We’re waiting.”

Jamie took a deep breath and glanced around the dance studio. The voice belonged to Dance Master Sprague, and the day Jamie’d been dreading had finally arrived.

“You’re good Jamie, and you’re ready,” Cristophe had told him the day before when, at the end of his daily private class, the Master Prefect surprised Jamie by telling him that the next day he’d be joining a junior class – the very one wherein he’d been first bullied and then banished as an untalented clod on his first day at the school.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Cristophe said, smiling at his special pupil. “You know all the forms perfectly. I’ve never seen anyone pick them up so quickly, or do them so well.”

“But...” Jamie began to protest.

“No, you are ready,” Cristophe said.

A frown began to bloom on Jamie’s face, but then he nodded. “I knew I’d have to go back one day,” he said. “But must it be Sprague’s class? And must it be tomorrow?”

“Yes to both questions,” Cristophe replied. “I can’t keep teaching you privately forever. You’re ready. There’s no use putting it off. And besides, Jamie... you’re strong. You can do it,” he added, giving Jamie a smile. "After what you’ve been through, you have nothing to fear from Sprague.”

Cristophe’s reference didn’t go unnoticed. In the course of their time together the boys had grown to know each other quite well, and Jamie had come to trust his older friend. Still fresh from the multiple traumas of the Imperial raid on Villa Mare Vista, the death of his father, and his separation from Charlie, his emotional state was more than fragile. While Jamie knew he had an older brother, and had even caught a brief glimpse of him in the labs at Gold Glass, Loran was just a name to him. 

Cristophe, on the other hand, was very real. Older than Jamie by four years, the Master Prefect was kind and understanding. He was patient with Jamie, and even had withstood the younger boy’s fiery temper; out of hurt and frustration over the injustice of his situation, Jamie’d lashed out at Cristophe in anger more than once during their rehearsal times. The two boys' final bond was sealed one night two weeks after Jamie’s arrival at the school. Although he tried to project a strong image to everyone at the École – even his three friends – Jamie went to bed each night with a stabbing pain in his chest that hurt so badly he cried himself to sleep every night since he’d arrived at the school.

For fourteen nights Cristophe lay in his bed listening to Jamie’s sobs, and for fourteen nights his heart broke knowing that the boy in the room next to him was the first he’d ever met who wasn’t ecstatic to be at the dance academy. It puzzled Cristophe, especially since every day Jamie would emerge from his room, prepare for school and meet him in the dance studio ready to work as if he were fine and nothing had happened the night before. That Jamie wouldn’t show the outside world his obvious pain seemed strange to Cristophe.

On the fifteenth night of his stay at the École, just as he had for fourteen nights previous, Jamie once again lay on his bed crying when a soft warm hand touched his shoulder. Jamie hadn’t heard the door of his room open and although taken by surprise, he quickly recovered and tried to staunch his tears. The room was dark, but there was just enough moonlight streaming through the high windows of his room that when his vision cleared, Jamie was shocked to see Cristophe sitting in his wheelchair, his face showing worry, his eyes full of concern.

“How did you get out of bed?” Jamie asked when he finally realized who’d entered his room and was sitting next to him.

“That’s not important,” Cristophe said. “What is important is why you’re so sad.”

Countless scans of Cristophe’s thoughts had convinced Jamie that the Master Prefect was as kind and caring as his outward appearance and actions demonstrated. But the probing he did that night was for a different reason. As he peered into Cristophe’s mind he saw the difficulty with which the older boy had gotten himself out of bed and into his chair without assistance. When he felt the great pain Cristophe had experienced in the process, he couldn’t hold back his emotions any longer. Sitting before him was a real older brother, not one bound by blood, but by spirit. Once more he began to cry. Getting out of his bed he knelt on the floor in front of Cristophe, put his head in the older boy’s lap and began to sob. When no more tears would come and he was finally able to talk, it was like a great dam burst. As Cristophe gently stroked his hair, Jamie told him everything – even about Charlie. When he was done, there was silence. After a few minutes Cristophe spoke.

“You’re a brave boy,” he said, and then without another word he helped Jamie back to bed, kissed him on the cheek, and wheeled out of the room.

The next day when Jamie met Cristophe for his lesson, nothing was mentioned of the previous night, and Jamie knew in his heart that his secrets were safe with the Master Prefect. That night when he went to bed, just before he lay his head on his pillow, Jamie slowly knocked three times on the wall next to his bed. It was the shared wall between he and Cristophe’s room, and he knew Cristophe’s bed lay against it. Three soft knocks were given in reply. Turning out the lights, Jamie went to sleep and from that day forward every night at lights out his own three knocks were always followed by a reassuring three knocks coming from the other side of the wall; Jamie never cried himself to sleep again.

A few days after Jamie’d opened up to Cristophe, the older boy surprised Jamie by telling him about how he’d come to occupy the chair. While Jamie had heard some of the story from his friends, Cristophe went into greater detail telling Jamie of his initial shock, and then anger when he’d learned the disease he’d been born with would eventually end his brilliant career.

“I was a dancer,” he told Jamie. “It's all I ever wanted to be. It's all I knew. And then it was gone. I hated what was happening to me. I hated the doctors. I hated every other dancer who could do even half of what I used to do, before I became ill."

“But you always seem so happy,” Jamie said, sounding surprised.

“For a long time I was far from happy,” Cristophe said soberly. “A few months after I was in the chair, I finally went to one of the dance studios. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I knew that when I saw the other boys dancing it would fire my anger and jealousy of them. It may seem strange,” he continued, “but in those days, anger was the only thing that kept me going.”

“No, it’s not strange,” Jamie said, thinking of his own anger over the unfairness of his present life, and how that fiery emotion seemed to nurture him far more than any other.

“In the studio, I sat watching the other boys practicing and I felt my blood begin to boil. I’d been a premier dancer – one of the main acts at the Mondele, but those days were over. As time went by, I enjoyed watching when they made mistakes. I’m ashamed to say it Jamie, but I especially liked when one of them got injured. But after a while, even that wasn’t enough sustain me. Then one day a new boy joined the troupe. He’d done well as a junior and was promoted to the senior level. He was talented, but he had difficulty with some of the more complex dance moves and sequences he was expected to master as a senior. At first I enjoyed watching him stumble, but then I noticed how hard he was trying and how important it was to him. One day I wheeled up to him and made a suggestion. Because I always sat in the corner and scowled at the class most of the time, he was surprised, but he accepted my advice and after a few tries he could execute the move without difficulty. In the days that followed I helped a few others, and it was then that I discovered that there was something I enjoyed even more than dancing.”

“What was that?” Jamie asked.

“Teaching,” Cristophe replied. “I realized how important teaching is, and the special gift a good teacher can give a pupil. Sprague teaches, but he hates it. I found out that I love to teach. At first I helped the older boys, but then I was appointed to the post of Master Prefect for the junior school.”

“Isn’t that a bit of an insult?” Jamie said. “You were a premier dancer. Shouldn’t you be teaching other premier dancers?”

“That’s the strangest thing of all,” Cristophe said. “As angry as I was, you might think I’d hate working with the younger, more inexperienced boys. But I found out that the more the younger boys learn, the more they perfect their forms. The earlier one learns, the better. So in the end, good teaching is more important for them than at any time in their careers. Now when one of them moves to the senior troupe and I watch them perform, I know that part of their skill and confidence have come from the training they received when they were with me. I’m proud of them and I’m happy that I helped them, and that’s the most important thing of all.”

Jamie nodded as he thought about Cristophe’s words. He couldn’t imagine the pleasant and kind boy ever being angry and jealous.

“I thought you said he was ready.” Sprague’s sharp voice woke Jamie from his trance.

Once more Jamie looked around the dance studio. The dance master was standing a few feet away, tapping his foot impatiently. To one side of the room, the boys in Sprague’s class looked on with interest. Even Trajan eyed him with curiosity.

Taking a deep breath Jamie assumed first position and stood ready for the dance master’s commands. In the thirty minutes that followed he quickly and correctly changed positions and moved according to Sprague’s orders, without making one misstep – even though Sprague rapidly switched positions on him and pushed Jamie to his limit.

“You’re barely passable,” Sprague barked out when it was over, then turning to Cristophe he added, “Too bad you wasted all your time on him.”

“But you’re taking him, no?” Cristophe said with a twinkle in his eye as he looked over at Jamie.

“I need another body to make the line look full,” Sprague said, sounding exasperated. “We lost Arka when he fell and broke his ankle. It’s an injury he can’t recover from and continue dancing, so when he heals he’s off to Expedition and Service. Your prince here will have to fill the hole. I wish at least I had someone with talent to replace Arka, but this one will do until someone else comes along.”

Jamie stood quietly, resting in first position during Sprague and Cristophe’s exchange. He wasn’t worried or even insulted by Sprague’s remarks – he’d already been well prepared by Cristophe.

“You’re perfect, Jamie,” Cristophe had said that morning when they’d met before his tryout. Cristophe had put him through a quick warm up and was smiling at his performance. “No matter how well you do or how perfect you are, he won’t acknowledge it. Put that in your head right now. Don’t let it upset you, or hurt your feelings. But in the end, he’ll accept you. Not because he has to, but because you’re good – the best of them all – and they’ll all see it when he tests you. Sprague may be many things, but he’s not blind to talent – even if he’s jealous of it.”

“He starts in the back of the line, with the youngest ones,” Sprague said to Cristophe, flashing a look at Jamie to see the boy’s reaction.

“He knows that already,” Cristophe said. And, in fact, Cristophe had anticipated that very thing. “You’ll start at the bottom with him,” Cristophe told Jamie, “but the cream always rises to the top. Just do what he says and you’ll be fine.”

He didn’t feel fine at the moment as he stood in position with Sprague glaring, but when the dance master called the boys out onto the floor, Jamie obediently assumed the position he was assigned to – third line, first spot on the right – and followed the dance master’s shouted orders.

The morning’s practice hadn’t gone badly. Sprague screamed at him about being sloppy, stupid, and lazy, but then the dance master did that to all the boys so he didn’t take it to heart. Cristophe’s training had been more than just physical. In the three months he’d spent with Jamie, he’d strengthened the boy’s will and resolve. He was the perfect surrogate older brother and Jamie had blossomed under Cristophe’s caring spirit.

At lunch he was greeted by hoots and catcalls from his three friends when he joined them.

“He’s alive and he still has all his limbs,” Lucas said when he saw Jamie walking towards them.

“In another week he’ll be junior premier,” Yves said.

“Maybe less,” Jeremy added, laughing.

“I’m just glad Sprague didn’t break his staff over my head,” Jamie said to his friends.

“But you showed him, didn’t you?” Yves said.

“Yes, you were perfect... we already know,” Lucas added with a smile. “Our spies told us.”

“I did alright,” Jamie said. “I’m third line, first position on the right – the lowest place he could put me.”

“Maybe so,” Jeremy said, “but he couldn’t send you to Expedition and Service, could he? Don’t worry Jamie, he can’t keep you in the lowest position forever."

Lunch continued with the four boys eating, laughing and talking as they usually did, but their conversation was interrupted by a loud crash. The refectory became silent and everyone looked toward the direction of the noise. A few boys were standing and pointing. More than a few were starting to laugh and make catcalls. Jamie had to stand on the bench he’d been sitting on to catch a glimpse of the commotion and when he finally had an unobstructed view he could see Larrus standing amidst a pile of broken dishes, dirty silverware, and discarded food.

The Kalorian boy was the son of the head seamstress for the Mondele. Tall and gangly, Larrus was at best mentally slow. His birth had been a difficult one and in addition to his decreased mental abilities, he had a limp and one of his arms was weaker than the other. He worked in the refectory and his job was to buss the tables after every meal time, scraping and then returning the soiled crockery and flatware to the dishwashing station to be cleansed for the next meal. And although he was slow and deliberate in his work, he was also thorough and appeared to take pride in his work. Once, when Jamie picked up his dishes and took them to the large tub Larrus used to collect them, the boy stopped him.

“No,” Larrus said quietly.

“I just wanted to help make it easier for you,” Jamie replied.

“My job,” Larrus said firmly. “It’s my job. I do it good,” he added with obvious pride.

“Yes, you do,” Jamie said. “I think you do a very good job.”

Larrus brightened up at Jamie’s praise and smiled. Most of the other Avionne boys rarely spoke to any Kalorian unless it was absolutely necessary, but from the time he’d arrived at the school Jamie noticed that no one ever spoke to Larrus. Many of the boys would make fun of Larrus, or mock him by trying to imitate his slow, deliberate speech. Some would even creep up behind Larrus when his back was turned and ape the boy’s halting gait while their friends giggled and egged them on. It made Jamie uncomfortable to see them mock the boy, since it reminded him of the cruelty he’d been shown on his first day at the school. There had been a few Kalorians like Larrus in the settlements; Jamie recalled that they were never mocked and would always be encouraged to do whatever they could with kindness and praise. So whenever he encountered Larrus, he always said hello and gave the boy a smile. Often he told him what a good job he was doing and when he did, he was rewarded by Larrus' smile of obvious pride for the recognition of his hard work.

In the first weeks of his stay at the École, Jamie encountered Larrus one afternoon, lugging a heavy load of kitchen linens to the laundry. The boy was dragging two large bags and it was obvious that he was having trouble due to his limp and his weak arm. After saying hello, Jamie reached for one of the bags.

“No, my job,” Larrus stated, just as he’d done when Jamie had gathered up his dishes.

“I know, Larrus,” Jamie said. “I just want to talk to you on your way to the laundry.”

“Talk?” Larrus said, sounding puzzled.

“Yes, that’s what friends do when they see each other: they talk, and they ask each other how their day went. Do you know what I mean?”

Larrus listened intently to Jamie, concentrating so much on the Avionne boy’s words that he barely noticed as Jamie took the heavy bag from his weakened hand.

“Come on, Larrus,” Jamie said, heading down the hall and dragging the heavy bag. “So how was your day?”

“Good,” Larrus said in his slow, deliberate speech. “I cleaned the tables. I scraped the plates. I’m taking the laundry.” Then limping along with Jamie, he began to drag the second bag Jamie’d left for him.

“Sounds like a busy day, Larrus, but you always do a good job. We’re really glad for your hard work,” Jamie said seriously.

“I like my work,” Larrus said, smiling.

By the time they reached the laundry, Larrus had told Jamie about what he’d done that day, the argument in the kitchen between two of the cooks who both liked the same stable hand, the new shoes he’d just gotten, and the nest of baby birds he’d found in the garden that morning.

Jamie told Larrus about his dance practice, laughed with Larrus about the cooks argument, and promised that he’d make sure to visit the baby birds.

Once they reached the laundry and handed over the bags, Jamie bid Larrus goodbye, but as he turned to leave he stopped when Larrus called out to him.

“You’re a prince,” he said, giving Jamie a close examination. “Mama told me.”

Still uncomfortable with the title that had been thrust upon him, Jamie was ready to protest when he remembered Cristophe’s words.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “but it doesn’t really mean anything, Larrus.”

“You said we were friends.”

“Yes, of course we’re friends.”

“Friends,” Larrus said, a touch of wonder in his voice. “The prince and I are friends.”

“Just call me Jamie.”

“Prince Jamie,” Larrus smiled broadly. “Prince Jamie and I are friends.”

“Yes, we’re friends,” Jamie replied feeling a little awkward at Larrus' sudden interest in royalty.

Bidding Larrus goodbye Jamie went on his way, but after that Larrus would always make a point of smiling at Jamie and saying hello.

Now Jamie watched as Larrus carefully got down on his knees and began to clean up the mess scattered across the floor.

“It was Trajan,” Lucas whispered. “I saw him laughing with his friends as Larrus came close to them. He put out his foot and tripped him.”

Only half hearing Lucas, Jamie walked down the row of tables, stopped when he got to Larrus, then knelt down and began to help him clean up.

“My job,” Larrus said.

“Yes, your job, I know.” Jamie said, not stopping as he put pieces of broken china and glass in the large tub Larrus used to collect the dishes. “Friends some times help each other when they have a job to do. Now I’m helping you.”

As they worked the bell for second practice rang and the refectory began to empty of students. Some who passed by looked down and giggled, but stopped when Jamie looked into their eyes and gave them a wilting glare. He moved quickly and when he saw that the worst had been picked up he stood up.

“There,” he said looking down at Larrus. “Most of it is picked up. You just have to clean the floor.”

“I can do it,” Larrus said. Looking up at Jamie, he added, “Friends help each other.”

Jamie nodded, but not wanting to be late for Second Practice dashed out of the refectory, thus failing to see Jakobus and Garus standing in the kitchen doorway. He’d been too busy concentrating on Larrus and his plight to notice they’d witnessed the whole incident.

Walking into Dance Master Sprague’s studio, Jamie could see that all the boys were lined up in position. Sprague glared at him as he quickly took his place. For the first hour, practice went as usual with Sprague shouting at the boys and all of them moving in sync with the music and the Dance Master’s commands. It was during a break that Jamie noticed Trajan and some of his friends laughing about the incident with Larrus. His temper starting to flare, Jamie approached Trajan and his little clique.

“You can say and do what you want to me,” Jamie said, referring to the constant snide comments and jokes Trajan made during every practice at his expense, “but leave Larrus alone. He’s never done anything to you.”

“He was born a Kalorian idiot,” Trajan said and started to limp and wave his arms in an overly dramatic imitation of Larrus. “What’s your excuse?” he added giving Jamie a mocking look.

The boys gathered around Trajan began to laugh.

Jamie’s anger was reaching its boiling point. “I’m warning you - leave Larrus alone,” he said. “His limp is ten times more graceful than your prancing around. Maybe you could take some lessons from him.”

At Jamie’s words one or two of the younger boys not in Trajan’s group began to snicker, but stopped when Trajan shot them an icy glare.

“Or what?” Trajan asked. “What will Prince James de Valèn do to me?"

Jamie took two steps toward Trajan and looked into his eyes. By now Jamie was filled with rage. He could feel it boiling up inside him. Angry thoughts burst from his mind, attacking the boy, and a shocked Trajan assumed a look of fear as the blood drained from his face. Stepping back, he tripped over another boy’s feet and landed on the floor, but although his fall was cushioned by the mat, he’d really fallen on his pride, sprawled as he was on the floor amidst his friends.

“Just what are you little brats doing?” Sprague shouted approaching the boys.

“He pushed me,” Trajan bleated out pitifully, like an injured lamb. “I was trying to be nice to him. I told him his dancing was improving and he pushed me."

Trajan’s friends nodded in agreement.

“He was going to kick him, “ Oran said, further embellishing the story. “We had to stop him,” Oran continued, laying it on as thick as he could.

“And you?” Sprague asked turning to Jamie. “What do you have to say about this?”

“Nothing,” Jamie said.

“Very well,” Sprague continued. “If you have nothing to say, than I do. I think it’s time we introduced the newest member of our troupe to the boot.”

At Sprague’s mention of the boot an undercurrent of murmuring swept through the group of boys.

“Silence!” Sprague shouted. “Or maybe some of you would like to share it with him?”

The boys instantly became quiet.

“Get the boot, Marrus” he said, turning to one of the older boys standing nearby.

The boy crossed the room and opened the door. As he did, Cristophe entered. Marrus patiently held the door open for the Master Prefect, but after Cristophe wheeled into the room, Marrus quickly pushed past him and disappeared into the hallway. Immediately, Cristophe could feel the tension in the room.

“It's good that you’re here,” Sprague said as a malicious grin spread across his face. “Your little prince is about to be introduced to the boot.”

“But... what...”

“He decided to bully Trajan,” Sprague said, “and I’m about encourage him to improve upon his manners.”

Cristophe looked from Sprague, to Trajan – still on the floor – to Jamie. He was about to speak when his eyes met Jamie’s and Jamie shook his head. A few seconds later the door of the dance studio reopened and Marrus entered the room carrying something that indeed looked like a boot, but as he got closer, Jamie could see that it was unlike any boot he’d ever seen. It was larger than a normal boot and appeared to be made of metal. The way Marrus carried it gave Jamie the impression that it was heavy – a hunch confirmed when Marrus set it on the floor and a dull thud reverberated through the dance studio.

“Come here,” Sprague said sharply, “and take off your left slipper.”

Jamie approached, bent down, and pulled off his dance slipper. Meanwhile Sprague had been manipulating the boot and Jamie noticed that instead of laces it opened and closed using three large clamps.

“Put your foot in here,” Sprague ordered.

Jamie, pulling up his leg warmer, slipped his foot into the boot. The black metal was cold against his skin. Before he could blink Sprague snapped it shut and refastened the clamps, each locking into place with a loud click.

“Let me be so kind as to explain the boot to your royal Highness,” Sprague said as he rose from the floor and leveled a steely gaze at Jamie. “When the boot is activated and is in contact with the floor, it’s capable of delivering a rather nasty shock. It’s not so strong that it will kill you, but it’s painful enough. Keep it off the floor and you’ll be fine, but that’s your job. One minute after it’s attached to your leg it becomes activated. I set the timer and you can’t defeat it. More than a few have tried... unsuccessfully,” he added with a rictus grin. Then turning his back on Jamie he shouted at the other boys, “Take your positions.”

The boys scrambled at Sprague’s orders and quickly assumed their standard formation.

“Oh, yes,” Sprague said, turning back to Jamie. “I’ve set it for one hour.”

“One hour!” Cristophe said, “but, Dance Master...”

“One hour!” Sprague shouted driving his dance master's staff into the floor with a loud rap that echoed through the studio.

At that instant the boot activated and Jamie felt a searing pain explode in his foot, ascend his leg and then shoot up his spine until the shock exploded in his brain with the intensity of a white hot poker. Instinctively he jerked his foot up, lifting the boot off the ground; the pain stopped. Breathless from the shock, he stood for a few seconds and trembled until the pain subsided. For almost a minute he held his leg in the air and made sure the boot didn’t make contact with the floor, but the longer he stood the heaver it got. Losing his balance, he couldn’t help but put his boot-clad foot back on the floor and once more the searing pain bored into his brain. Lifting his leg, he stood off balance on one foot and tried to recover.

“You’re allowed to fly,” Sprague said, chuckling. “How you keep it off the ground is up to you.” Then he returned to the junior troupe and continued to supervise their practice.

Jamie, holding his foot off the ground, looked down his leg and the boot that was attached to it, then he looked at Cristophe who sat as still as a statue with a sad look on his face. Finally he turned to Sprague and the boys, and witnessed a smirk of self-satisfaction appear on Trajan’s face. For a few more minutes he held up his leg, but the weight of the boot and the fact that it made him so unbalanced eventually forced him to weaken and set it on the floor, only to be shocked again. Jerking his leg back up, he took a deep breath and tried to clear his head of the pain and then began to stroke his wings.

With the heavy boot attached to his leg, he wobbled as he took to the air. Taking long deliberate strokes, he hovered precariously inches above the floor, fighting the weight of the boot. Airborne, the boot made any type of steady, even flight almost impossible; it seemed to grow heaver and heavier with every stroke of his wings until, unable to maintain his lift, he crashed to the floor, activating the charge and once more feeling the searing pain. For one hour, Sprague worked his students as Jamie fought to keep the boot from contact with the floor. Time and again he would slowly sink to the floor only to be jolted by the charge and launch himself into the air. Cristophe remained nearby, unable to intervene. Sprague and the boys practiced to a lively tune Sprague had ordered the student musician to play. After one hour, the surreal scene came to an end when a sharp buzz from the boot signaled the end of the punishment. Jamie, unsure of the noise, continued fighting to remain airborne, but Sprague approached him and ordered him to the ground, telling him that the device had shut down.

Landing, he was still afraid to put his foot firmly on the floor, but Sprague knelt down, pulled on the boot, and brought it into contact with the floor. Jamie winced in anticipation of a shock, but felt nothing. Sprague released the clamps holding the device in place and Jamie stepped out of it. When he placed his foot on the floor, it ached and tingled. When he began to walk he felt as if he would fall over.

“Practice is concluded,” Sprague announced, and the boys raced to leave the studio.

Jamie limped toward the door.

“Not so fast,” Sprague said, walking over to the piano. Picking up a pen he began to write on a tablet that was laying on the lid of the piano. After a minute he finished, tore off the top sheet, folded it and approached Jamie.

“Here,” he snapped. “Give this to Jakobus. You’ll scrub pots tonight... and there’ll be no supper for you.”

Jamie took the folded paper and looked at it.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Sprague said curtly, “get yourself to the kitchen... now.”

Clutching the paper, Jamie limped from the room and headed for the refectory. When he arrived, he handed the paper to Jakobus who took it, unfolded it, and silently read Sprague’s words.

“This way,” he said, looking down at Jamie.

Limping behind him, Jamie followed Jakobus to one of the large pot sinks.

“Work on these,” the Kalorian said without inflection. “When you’re done, go to your room.”

The sink was piled high with pots, and by the time Jamie finished it was dark. Fifteen minutes before he dried the last pot, the clock tower bell tolled, calling all the students to their rooms before lights out. As he walked from the refectory, his leg still hurt, although not as much as when he’d started on the large mountain of pots. The corridors and hallways of the dormitory were quiet as he passed through them. Exhausted, he trudged to his room. Turning on the light, he stepped inside and quietly closed the door behind him. He was about to drop on his bed when he noticed a cloth-covered object sitting on his small desk. Going to his desk, he looked down at the cloth and carefully lifted it, revealing a tray of food and a glass of milk. Forgetting how tired he was, he grabbed a slice of bread and stuffed it into his mouth, before he pulled out his stool and dropped onto it. It seemed to him that he devoured the food in seconds.

When he was finished, he wiped his face with the napkin and stood up; as he did, he pushed the tray toward the center of the desk and noticed a slip of paper beneath it. With a tug at the exposed corner, he slid the paper out from under the tray, and carefully examined it. A tired smile crept across his face: the picture was crudely drawn – a simple and uneven stick figure. That it was an Avionne was clear by the two wings – one grossly large, the other tiny and small – emerging from the figure's back. That it was meant to be him became apparent when he saw that the figure was wearing what might be considered a crown atop a thatch of yellow hair. And although the scrawl underneath the figure was completely illegible, he didn’t have to guess to know that the two scribbled lines probably said Prince Jamie and that the figure had been drawn by Larrus, who must have smuggled the tray of food into his room.

Gently placing the paper back on his desk, he felt a wave of fatigue wash over him and even though it was fifteen minutes before lights out, he quickly removed his sandals and tunic, slipped on his sleep shorts, and dropped into bed, but not before rapping three times on the wall he and Cristophe shared. The three soft raps that answered were comforting. His bed seemed to swallow him and within seconds of laying his head on his pillow, he was sound asleep.

The next morning he went straight to the bath when Garras woke him. After bathing he returned to his room to retrieve his dance slippers and was surprised to see the tray had disappeared. He knew Larrus would be working in the kitchen so he was sure it hadn’t been taken away by the boy, but Garras never spoke of it and neither did any other Kalorian. In the weeks to follow, he had to wear the boot twice more – once for a hour, and again for thirty minutes. After each incident, he was sent to scrub pots as further punishment and he missed supper, but he always found a tray awaiting him in his room, and it always disappeared by the time he returned to his room after his bath. No one ever acknowledged performing the act, but he was always grateful to go to bed with something to eat instead of crawling under his covers with an empty belly.

Two months after he returned to Sprague’s class, the dance master grudgingly judged him ready to perform at the opera house. In the afternoon of the next day five, he walked with his classmates to La Mondele Royale to prepare for the evening's performance. The boys had rehearsed the program for a few weeks. It was a standard routine that had been used countless times. At the opera house, they went to a rehearsal room and danced through the number two additional times. Just as he did in his studio, Sprague did nothing but curse, yell, and throw insults at the boys, calling them everything from worthless slugs to talentless idiots. After eating an early and light dinner, they went for costuming and makeup which were meant to turn the boys into wood sprites for their act. Jamie didn’t think the outfits were that flattering and he was appalled when all the boys’ wings were sprayed with a brownish-green dye to make their wings look alike. When he hesitated and expressed his reluctance, he was assured by the man applying the spray that it would easily wash off the next day. He allowed the application, but silently seethed as the brownish goop covered his beautiful, iridescent feathers.

When the show started, the junior troupe remained in the practice room and watched the other acts on a large informatics screen. Jamie was amazed to see the senior troupe perform their routines. One half of the troupe did an aerial ballet. When they were finished the other half came on stage and did a strange dance with fluid graceful movements punctuated by wild contortions and unusual gymnastic moves. It fascinated him. There were a few older solo performers who were very talented, and then Jeremy, Lucas and Yves – Trio Chrysalis – preformed an amazing dance that had him spellbound. He became so enthralled that he had to be nudged out of his trance to go upstairs and prepare for the junior act.

Standing in the wings, he caught a glimpse of the final minutes of Chrysalis’s performance. It was truly amazing. His friends moved with exceptional grace and skill and he envied their talent. When they were done and began to take their bows the audience applauded wildly and soon the stage was littered with flowers and even whole bouquets. He looked out over the audience, but was surprised to see that the imperial box was empty. One of the boys of the junior troupe who was more or less neutral toward him and who would occasionally talk to him, told him that the imperial court didn’t come to every performance, and often only showed up when there was a new act or there was a special celebration.

Before he knew it, the curtain fell on Trio Chrysalis. Immediately stagehands cleared the stage, new scenery was flown in, and the boys of the junior troupe went on stage and took up their positions. When the curtain rose, the music began and the juniors did their number. When it was finished there was applause, but nothing like the reaction for Chrysalis. Then the curtain fell and the boys were herded offstage and the entire senior troupe performed an encore.

At the conclusion of the performance, the boys returned to the École, visited the bath to wash away the sweat and make-up, and retired to their rooms. The next day they repeated the same performance twice: first for the matinee, and again for the evening performance. It had been an interesting experience for Jamie. He hadn’t been sure what to expect, and while the performance of the junior troupe wasn’t that exciting, he enjoyed seeing the other dancers perform – especially his friends as Trio Chrysalis.

Two days after his first performance, Jamie was sitting in the main library of the Mountain of the Arts. Both his dance and theory classes had been cancelled due to a dance symposium that Sprague and Master Trousset were attending. His friends had told him that he’d occasionally have an extra free day, but this was his first. Lucas, Yves and Jeremy’s schedule remained the same since none of their instructors were attending, so Jamie had most of the day to himself.

It hadn’t taken him long, after rising, to decide what he would do. At the conclusion of breakfast, after saying goodbye to his friends, he left the refectory and headed across the park-like campus to the library. Since it was a warm, sunny day he passed quite a few Kalorians tending the gardens and fountains. More than once he’d wave at them and was happy to see at least a few give him a nod of the head. After learning more about the Kalorians who occupied the Mountain of the Arts he didn’t want to break a rule that might get them in trouble, but since most of the boys in the École avoided him, he hoped that he might make a few friends among the Kalorians. Upon entering the library, he passed through the high, spacious lobby, walked past the beautiful reflecting pool, and went directly to a large, semi-circular desk that Lucas had told him was the information desk for the library.

“Since you’re new, you have to register before you’ll be allowed to use the library,” Lucas had told him.

Approaching the desk, Jamie saw two people behind it. One of them was a seated man staring intently at an informatics screen. The second was a woman shuffling through a stack of books, and occasionally placing one on a cart behind her.

“I wish they’d find a better way to handle these requests, Artur,” she said, shaking her head and frowning as she put another book on the cart. “This could all be done instantly and effortlessly over the net. Why must we operate in such an archaic way?”

“Because we’re librarians Marcela,” Artur said, glancing up from the informatics screen with a smile coming to his face.

“But it already exists on the net,” Marcela repeated.

“Maybe so,” Artur said, “but there’s nothing like using an original source for research. I don’t know why you’re so irritated by it. You seem to be in a bad mood today. Normally, this wouldn’t upset you."

“I was up late last night, and all because...” she stopped when she noticed the Avionne boy standing in front of her.

“Yes?” she said, putting down the book.

“I was told I have to register before I can use the library,” he said politely.

“That’s correct. Artur will help you,” she replied, turning to get the man’s attention.

Artur looked up from his workstation and called Jamie over. “Just a little information,” he said. He smiled kindly, and began to ask Jamie a few simple questions.

After Artur registered him, the librarian went over the rules and regulations with Jamie, which were quite simple. Jamie asked about using the informatics stations, and Artur told him that since he was registered, he could use most of the facilities of the library.

“The fourth floor is restricted to faculty and staff,” Artur told him, adding that access to any of the special collections would be granted only with permission, given in advance and in writing. “Everything else is accessible.”

Jamie left the desk and walked slowly into the main library. He remembered an out of the way alcove his friends had shown him on the third floor, and he headed there. Although he’d already been in the library with Lucas, Yves and Jeremy, Jamie chose to take the main staircase in his climb to the third level in order to see some of the art and objects on display from the library’s collection. The exhibits often changed and tended to be of a historical nature, and Jamie thought about Charlie as he passed some of the displays that catalogued the history of Altinestra. One very large case had a full-length portrait hanging above it that instantly caught his eye. Once he was standing in front if it, he discovered that the case held a special display of every imperial baton from the start of the empire - the most prominent being the one belonging to the man in portrait, the same man driving the chariot of wild dogs in the lobby of the Mondele – Enrick, first Emperor and founder of the Empire.

Looking at the beautiful silver and gold baton of the first emperor, Jamie recalled his lessons with Mobley and remembered that shortly after becoming Emperor at the end of the Wars of Succession, Enrick took to carrying a baton. It came to symbolize the power of the emperor. Every emperor succeeding Enrick was presented with the baton of first emperor during their coronation ceremony, but Erick's baton was far too sacred as a symbol of the empire to use on a daily basis, and it remained secure in the Imperial treasury – one of the empire’s hallowed icons. Allowed to hold Erick’s baton only during the coronation ceremony before it was quickly whisked away for safekeeping, each emperor had his own personal baton created for him to carry as a symbol of his power. Looking into the case, Jamie saw batons of precious wood and gold, along with others fashioned, as was Erick’s, entirely of gold and silver. Still other batons were gem encrusted, and three exceptionally beautiful ones were made of ebony, rosewood, and silver inset with diamonds and rubies.

For a few minutes Jamie became absorbed with the presentation, until he remembered his true purpose for coming to the library. Leaving the display, he climbed to the third level and eventually arrived at the small alcove housing an informatics display screen. Taking a seat he looked around to see if anyone was nearby, and was happy to discover that not only was he the only person in the alcove but also the only one on the entire third floor. Although he’d been given an identification code to access the database, he simply concentrated on the numbers that made up the code and the dark screen came to life.

His mind reached out and his thoughts joined the amazing dance of the data stream. During his final months in Isewier, when he wasn’t with his father or Charlie, Jamie’d entered the data stream every day, some times staying up late into the night. Since it had been some time since he'd accessed the net, he thought he’d have difficulty, but was surprised so see how easy it was. In fact, it seemed like his abilities had gotten stronger – something he found hard to believe.

At first, because he was in an unknown location, Jamie cautiously probed the library's local net, careful not to expose himself to the main data sphere for fear of detection by hidden security programs. Finally, when he was convinced that he wasn’t being monitored, he began to explore the data plane of the system much like any student would, except that his exploration was directed completely by his mind. As a precaution, he placed a set of files on the screen relating to the history of dance and instructed them to rotate every two minutes, knowing that if anyone came upon him and saw him staring blankly into space before a static screen, it would at the very least incur suspicion.

Exercising great care, he slowly navigated the information-rich data plane of the library system as he investigated what controls had been engineered into it to keep students from accessing unauthorized information. He was surprised to find simple, even archaic, defenses in place, but guessed that those who’d created the security system for the library didn’t think there was much risk of a major data breach from the arts students studying on the Canon Mon Arts.

When his brief survey was over, he accessed the main programming and storage capabilities of the library’s system. He was surprised to see the large amount information the librarians were permitted access to and could scarcely believe the vast amount of free space reserved for storage. It was then he remembered that this was a library attached to the imperial government. Of course it would have superior capabilities for accessing, searching and storing information.

It only took a short time for him to gain confidence in his abilities. Realizing that his time was limited, he ceased his exploration and moved with purpose to the core of the system. Once there, he expertly creating three subroutines that he carefully wrapped in a matrix similar to the programming grid already in place so that anyone searching for irregularities in the system would be hard pressed to find anything unusual.

The first subroutine Jamie created gave him the ability to easily slip through the simple defenses placed within the system to thwart unauthorized access. The second routine was more complex and took a little more time to create. It consisted of two key elements. When it was running, it would allow him to use virtually any informatics station in the empire that wasn’t highly secured as a data conduit. Additionally, it would rapidly and randomly jump from data station to data station, making the identify of the user and his source virtually impossible to track.

The third subroutine was the most complex of all. As his mind danced among the pulses of energy and bits of data, he created a sophisticated private matrix that he carefully wove into the primary data stream. It was designed to take advantage of the nanosecond-wide gaps that occurred between normal data transmission, thus granting his shadow system the ability to surreptitiously gather synergy from the main data core, much like a parasite saps the strength and energy from an unsuspecting host. It also allowed him to hid and store data in these forgotten spaces. And while individually each micro time interval was useless, together, given the vastness of the libraries resources, both his source of energy and storage capabilities were virtually limitless.

When he was finished he conducted a careful examination of his work. Satisfied that it wouldn’t be detected, he took a deep breath and plunged with dizzying speed into the imperial data sphere. Allowing his mind to ride the data stream, he began by exploring familiar territory: first tapping into the controls of the central imperial net, and then the data streams that went to Gold Glass and the moon base at Ajax Prime. In every instance he was able to penetrate each system without being detected. Moving rapidly because of time, he was preparing to leave the data stream when something caught his attention. It was a small glowing sphere of data, but what shocked him most of all was that it called directly to him. At that second he froze, and his body became rigid while he forced his mind to become as still as a placid lake. Fearing detection he waited, but then once again he was summoned – by name!

He remained quiet and refused to respond to the entity – for that’s all he could think to call it – and it approached him. The entity appeared as a glowing red sphere that twinkled and sparkled as if it were a giant ruby. Once it reached him – or at least the place where the singularity of his mind was residing in the data stream – it stopped and pulsed. Then it moved even closer and somehow touched his consciousness. Having established contact, it backed off and began to spin rapidly. In an instant it exploded like a brilliant firework and as the glittering, shimmering red remains whizzed past him he could see that what remained was something akin to small, private data matrix. Approaching it, he recognized its signature. Just as he’d begun to suspect, it was the same hidden, private data stream that he’d found months before while at his father’s workstation. It had simply appeared one day and he’d accessed it, but it had disappeared just as quickly as it'd appeared, and he’d not been able to find it again. Now here it was, right before him.

Without a second’s hesitation, he accessed it with his mind and found a treasure trove of information – even more than it had held the first time he’d encountered the source. What initially caught his eye was a series of files that looked quite similar to some of the encoded secret Gold Glass files his father had shown him. Entering one of them he discovered it was a treasure trove of information regarding one of the viruses that lived in his body. The information it contained was amazing. Even more amazing was how it reacted with the body and what symptoms it would produce. Attached to the file were instructions for activating and encouraging the activities of the strain. After realizing what the first file contained he dove into the others and found that they each contained critical information on each of the twelve strains he’d purposely been infected with.

Backing out of the data stream, he took a deep breath. It seemed to Jamie that whoever had placed the information had done so on purpose – maybe as a way to help him. He first thought was of his father. Could Croal have been responsible for the data source? It was something he’d certainly expect from his father – a backup in case he were caught and couldn’t continue Jamie’s training. He couldn’t be sure, but who ever had done it had given him valuable help and assistance.

When he finished with the individual viral files he took a quick survey at what else the source had to offer. Sampling a variety of files and the information they contained, he suddenly stopped when he came across a file with the name Niklas Agramon clearly displayed; he plunged into it like a swimmer dives into a pool. Once inside the file, he was shocked to find himself face to face with the boy he knew as Niklas. Startled, he became flustered and unsure of himself until he realized that what he was looking at was simply a recent holo of the boy.

The information he scanned told him the boy was being transferred to Castle Rood and would be under the tutelage of someone named Sakki. The file also contained training evaluations, and performance scores. There was a vid of the boy in what Jamie guessed was the training camp in Compari. It showed Niklas Agramon fighting a small ocacat. Although not fully grown, the cat had sharp fangs and claws and was quite agile. Half the size of the boy, it attacked him but was repelled. Time and again Niklas fought it off until the cat made one final, mad leap and ended up with the boy's sword imbedded in its soft underbelly. The cat began to convulse as its blood flowed onto the ground while the boy stood over it and quietly watched it die. After the vid ended, Jamie combed the file but found nothing more of interest except for one cryptic comment that simply said, “Suspect literacy, investigation requested.”

Before leaving the private data stream, Jamie approached the holo one last time and gave it a closer inspection. The boy was a bit older than the last picture Jamie had seen. Niklas’ file stated that he was fourteen Altinestra Standard, which made him sixteen under the standard Commonwealth system. He was thin, but it was obvious that there was nothing but hard muscle under the young man’s tanned skin. The face Jamie examined had a shyness that was appealing – the same quiet shyness that Jamie’d encountered when he’d met Niklas for a few seconds at Compari. And even though it was only a holo, Jamie could recall the sense of purity that had radiated from the young Gahdar in training. Reluctantly turning away from the holo, Jamie began to exit the stream, but paused when something tugged at the back of his mind. Impulsively he wove the private date stream into the matrix he’d created earlier. To his surprise it didn’t resist, but fit perfectly into the place he created for it – much like the final piece of a puzzle slides into place to create a finished picture. Examining his work with satisfaction, he checked the time and was surprised to see how late in the afternoon it was.

Carefully easing out of the imperial data sphere, he checked to make sure he hadn’t been detected. When he was satisfied that he hadn’t been, he exited the library’s data stream, turned off the informatics screen and left the library. Walking back across campus, he found he was quite hungry and then realized that he’d missed lunch. Since the time for the evening meal was fast approaching he continued on his way to the refectory. That night in his room Jamie thought of Niklas Agramon and drifted off to sleep with the picture of the young warrior still in his mind.

In the weeks that followed, Jamie visited the library whenever he had the time, learning what he could from the Imperial web and studying the information brought to him by the private data stream that served up amazing amounts of fascinating facts. During the same period, he also began to teach his friends Kalorian and when one day he let it slip that he also knew a third language, he found himself forced to tell them the story of the boy Icarus and also began to instruct them in the secret Icarian tongue. When one day they were accidentally discovered by Cristophe, the Master Prefect also joined them, fascinated to discover more secrets about the boy whose room was next to his in the junior dorm.

He longed to be able to use the gate he’d seen backstage at the Mondele, but had been unable to find an opportunity to journey there alone. One evening when Yves, Lucas, and Jeremy were performing at a private party at the imperial palace, he mentioned his frustration to Cristophe, explaining to him how he could access the gates just through the power of his mind and how it would be a way to visit Charlie.

“Anyone else might think you are suffering from Aioone fire fever, but I know you’re telling the truth,” Cristophe said – the Master Prefect having seen Jamie do some strange things.

At first, Cristophe had felt sorry for the boy who had been taken from his home, but over time the more Jamie told Cristophe, the more the Master Prefect began to suspect that the newest member of the junior troupe had an incredibly overactive imagination. Unbeknownst to Cristophe, Jamie had discovered his feelings and one day, after telling him how he’d taken Charlie to the moon Ajax for his brother’s first flight, Jamie could feel Cristophe’s disbelief. Seeing Cristophe’s doubt about his truthfulness, Jamie’s temper flared and, catching sight of a large wood spider crawling up wall of the dance studio, he pointed it out to Cristophe.

In the weeks after first entering the data stream in the library, Jamie – using the information he’d gleaned from the many files it contained – had resumed the exercises he’d begun under Croal. Like an athlete in training, when he was alone in the solitude of his room, he practiced. As he did, his abilities grew in small but constant steps and increments.

“Now watch,” he said, a mixture of anger and confidence coloring his voice as he lifted his arm.

The small, lightning-like spark that jumped from the tip of Jamie’s finger and flew across the room with a loud crackle startled Cristophe. And when the Master Prefect looked at the wall where the spider had been crawling, all he saw was a black spot where the paint had been seared, and a small hole in the plaster.

Cristophe’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry for doubting you,” was all he said, and he quickly ended their practice session.

Jamie continued in the class with Master Sprague, and was often punished with the boot. Over time, as other boys moved to the second line and then the first, and eventually graduated to the senior troupe, he remained in the same position he’d been given after he’d been readmitted to Sprague’s class.

After a few month’s of performing on stage with the junior troupe, Jamie knew the regular pattern of the program at the Mondele all too well. The senior troupe always performed at least two, and some times three, acts. The solo artists would have some new interpretation to showcase. Trio Chrysalis would push the crowd to the limit of their emotions, and then the junior troupe would perform while the seniors recostumed and regrouped for the mass encore.

It was always the same, and soon grew rather stale. He never experienced the thrill of performing that his friends so often talked about. After a while, Jamie came to learn that the true role of the junior troupe was to go on stage, look cute, and fill in while one of the auxiliary stages was reset, and the senior troupe was ready to perform the big finale. One week the juniors would be wood sprites, the next some type of mythical creature, followed by birds or bees or other animals, but the dance moves were almost always the same. Creativity and freedom didn’t come until the boys moved to the senior troupe or became featured soloists. Being a junior performer was nowhere near the excitement that the seniors experienced, and was a far cry from the exciting lives of the solo performers.

Sprague kept him in the same position even when a newer younger boy would come into the class. Trajan and his friends would goad him until he’d make a misstep, lose his temper, and do something that would earn him the boot and an evening of scrubbing pots.

Outside of the practice and performance schedules, he continued to spend as much time as possible with his three friends. After a thorough exploration of the mountain and its many wonders, they went into Küronas itself to see the sights of the city. Occasionally Cristophe would join them and over time, Jamie got to see a great deal of the imperial city.

To break the boredom of his classes with the junior troupe, he continued to occasionally train with Cristophe. It was also a way for Cristophe to practice his Kalorian and Icarian and as Cristophe improved, the two boys would go to a private studio and converse in Icarian as Jamie practiced various moves Cristophe had taught him. One day, secluded in practice room, Cristophe turned to Jamie and instead of Icarian, spoke the standard tongue of the Empire.

“It’s best if I explain this in a language I know well,” Cristophe said to Jamie, waving him over to stand beside his chair. “ I want to teach you something.”

“What’s that?” Jamie asked.

“The flying arabesque,” Cristophe said, smiling. “I think you’re ready for it.”

“Stop joking,” Jamie said, starting to laugh. “How can I be ready to do it? You’re the only one who ever perfected it - it was your signature move. Even the Terrible Trio can’t do it, and they can do just about anything.”

“You can do it,” Cristophe said softly. “I know it.”

"And why’s that?"

“It’s your wings, Jamie. With them, you can do it with ease. I’m convinced.”

It was now a year since Jamie had first come to the École, and he was in the middle of his Icarian puberty cycle. His wings, always a bit larger than those of other boys his age, had almost reached full maturity. Their shimmering iridescence always turned heads, and were the envy of every Avionne boy on the mountain. Physically, although he’d grown slightly in stature, he was still small and eventually he became convinced that he’d never be tall. In fact it was one of the reasons he could, at thirteen, still get away with dancing with the juniors.

Now nearing fourteen years by Commonwealth Standard, and given his skill, he rightfully should have transferred to the senior troupe, but by fiendishly vindictive design, Sprague refused to allow him to graduate to senior status. Since no one but Sprague and Cristophe ever saw him dance anything other than the standard junior troupe routines, there was no other way to judge his progress. Cristophe had tried to intervene, but Sprague was always able to thwart any attempts to allow Jamie a chance for a senior troupe audition.

“So are you ready to do it?” Cristophe asked giving Jamie a steady unflinching gaze – the one he always projected when he was quite serious.

“I can try, but...”

“No, you will not try, Prince de Valèn. You will do it.” Cristophe said, and his voice held the confidence and authority of a teacher who knows his student. He and Larrus were the only ones to refer to Jamie as a prince – Larrus out of blinding devotion to the only Avionne who treated him with kindness and affection, and Cristophe because he’d always insisted that Jamie not shrink from who he really was. “You can do it,” Cristophe continued, his voice exuding conviction.

“I don’t know...”

“I do. Now, just listen to what I tell you. First go to the center of the center of the studio and assume first position.”

Jamie did so and awaited Cristophe’s instructions, but before telling him what to do, Cristophe surprised him.

“Do you feel that slight breeze?” the Master Prefect asked.

“What breeze?”

“The movement of air that the ventilation system generates. Don’t you feel it against your feathers?”

“Yes,” Jamie replied, after being made aware of it. He broke first position and turned toward the Master Prefect, puzzled as to where Cristophe’s conversation was headed.

“Stay in first position,” Cristophe said sharply.

Jamie, hearing the firmness in Cristophe’s voice, resumed first position.

“The ventilation system here is always circulating, and it creates small updrafts and eddies in the air,” Cristophe continued. “Most people feel it, if they concentrate on it. Those of us with wings are even more aware of it, but it’s something we all grow used to.”

“But what does that…?” Jamie began to ask.

“The same type of system operates in the Mondele. There are two main units that ventilate the opera house: one at the rear behind the last mezzanine, and the other at the rear of the stage. If you stand center stage, you can feel it against your wings.

"Now the flying arabesque," Cristophe continued, “is preformed like a standard arabesque. Your left leg extended straight out behind you, and your toes pointed while you remain motionless on demi-pointe on your right foot. The difference with the flying arabesque is that you appear to float in the air, with the toes of your right foot just brushing the floor and your right leg not actually supporting you, as it would in the standard arabesque. Your wings have to remain absolutely motionless. Any Avionne – er, Icarian...” Cristophe quickly corrected himself, for Jamie had told him some of the things his father had revealed to him and was becoming more comfortable with the term.

“Any Icarian," he continued, "even one who can’t dance, can do a flying arabesque by stroking their wings. The secret to do it correctly is to remain completely motionless and just float above the stage floor. I never told anyone about the air currents, but even if I had, it’s still an almost impossible move to execute. Everyone talks about how I preformed it, but their memories are short. I could only hold the position for four beats at best. But you, Jamie, with those large wings of yours, well... I think you can hold it longer. I think you can do a true flying arabesque and sustain it.”

Jamie listened carefully as Cristophe explained in detail the actions he needed to carry out, but the first few times he tried it, he landed on his backside – once yelling in pain when he fell hard onto the tip of one of his wings. By his twelfth try, he could almost hold it. Then, on the thirteenth try, he felt the draft and held his wings motionless and angled them in such a way as to catch the invisible air current, and at that moment he had it – the flying arabesque. And although he was able to hold it for only two beats, he suddenly grasped completely what the Master Prefect was trying to teach him. By the sixteenth try he was able to hold it for ten beats as he felt more comfortable mastering his center of balance. On the twenty-second try he held it for twenty full beats, and Cristophe clapped for joy.

“I knew it!” Cristophe said, grinning delightedly at Jamie. “From the first time I saw you dance those Kalorian dances for me, I knew with time you could do it. I never guessed you’d trounce my record of four beats so thoroughly. Twenty full beats, Jamie. You held it for twenty beats! And what’s even more amazing is that you’re still young and you just learned it today!”

“I'd rather you not let anyone know,” Jamie said. "I don’t care about breaking your record."

“Well, you’ve done it, now haven’t you?” Cristophe said. “If you didn’t let anyone else know, we’d still know it. No, Jamie, talent should be seen and lauded. If you can hold it for twenty beats, do it. If you can hold it for thirty, or forty, or for an hour, do it. Never be ashamed of your talent and skill. Promise me that.”

Jamie solemnly promised.

“So, since you can do it today for at least twenty beats, show me what you’ve learned in your theory classes, and combine it with your natural skill in choreography. How would you showcase such a move?” Cristophe asked, then stopped and waited, expecting the boy to stand there and ponder a reply, but Jamie responded in an instant.

“The Redak,” he said enthusiastically.

“How?” Cristophe asked, surprised at Jamie’s confident response.

“At the end,” Jamie said, “After Karkal Foss receives the final fatal blows, right before he falls to the ground. It would be the perfect place for it.”

“Show me,” Cristophe ordered.

And Jamie did.

Nodding his approval, Cristophe ended their practice for the day and sent Jamie off to the baths. “Remember to practice it,” he called out to the boy’s back, then added, “I just want you to promise me that I’ll be there the first time you perform the flying arabesque.”

Jamie turned around and smiled. “I will, I promise.”