The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale
Ten days after he’d told his friends about Charlie, Jamie was sitting in one of the smaller theaters of the opera house with the rest of his dance theory class. His teacher, Master Trousset, had brought them to the Mondele in order to better show and explain the many things that go into the pre-production of a work. Jamie sat quietly as one by one the stage manager, the director of lighting, the head of props, the main set designer, and others spoke briefly about their roles and responsibilities. He even found it quite interesting. When class was over, Trousset was just beginning to shepherd the boys back to the school when Jeremy, Yves and Lucas suddenly appeared, walking down the hall toward the dance instructor and his class.
“And here we have Trio Chrysalis,” Master Trousset said, smiling. “Are you here for a rehearsal?”
“Yes,” Yves said. “We’re working on a new routine, and wanted to try it out on the main stage.”
“We heard you were here, Master Trousset,” Jeremy added, “and we came looking for you.”
“Looking for me?” Trousset replied, sounding surprised. “Why?”
“Well, not for you exactly,” Yves said. “Actually, we know Jamie is in your class and we were hoping to see him.”
“Yes, we need someone to...” Yves hesitated as he struggled to remember the excuse they’d devised.
“We need someone to help spot us,” Lucas interrupted. “You see, I can spot Jeremy and he can spot me, it’s easy for us to take turns, but when two of us are practicing at the same time we can’t very well spot Yves, so we need an extra dancer. We were hoping to borrow Jamie.”
“Well, I suppose,” Trousset said. “Class is over. We were just going back to the school, but if you need him and it’s ok with...”
“Yes,” Jamie quickly interjected, perhaps a bit too eagerly. “I’d like to help them.”
“Very well,” Trousset said. “Just be back in time for the evening meal.”
“We will,” Lucas solemnly replied, looking every bit the truthful, angelic boy he was not.
Minutes later the four boys were heading down one of the long corridors of the opera house, having left Master Trousset and the rest of Jamie’s class behind.
“It worked,” Lucas said, smiling.
“Well, the first part at least,” Jamie said. “Now we have to wait.”
“For what?” Jeremy asked.
“Its late afternoon, but there are still people working in the props department,” Jamie said. “We can’t go there until everyone has left for the day.”
“So what do we do now?” Yves asked.
But before Jamie could answer, strains of music and the melodic voice of a singer wafted down the corridor. The song was a familiar one, the sound of the music strong and full, and riding on top of its rich, warm sound was a voice so pure and clear that all four boys stopped and simply listened.
“The Petite Forum,” Yves said, pointing toward a set of gilded double doors at the end of the hall.
The boys walked down the broad hallway and soon arrived at the door. As they pushed it open, the lush orchestration and beautiful voice flowed over them and they entered the small concert hall known as the Petite Forum.
Pausing in the doorway, Jamie felt as if he’d discovered a hidden treasure. Like a perfect little gem, the small concert hall was resplendent. It was Jamie’s first time in this part of the opera house, and he was amazed at the beauty that surrounded him. Carved, gilded paneling and ceilings, small crystal chandeliers, heavy ornate tapestries and hand-woven carpeting that yielded gently to each footstep created an atmosphere of restrained yet elegant comfort, and luxury that was almost overwhelming. Plush, comfortable chairs, some with ottomans, occupied the space where rows of seats would normally be placed to accommodate an audience.
“The Emperor’s private theater,” Yves softly said, turning to Jamie as he pointed to two large, overstuffed, high-backed chairs on a slightly elevated platform that sat in front of the orchestra pit. One of the chairs had the imperial crest embossed in gold on its soft and rich red leather upholstery. “It’s one of the three private theaters in this wing; the Golden Door and the Ocean Pearl are further down the hall. They’re both amazingly beautiful, but the Petite Forum is the most ornate of the three. It’s said to be the Empresses’ favorite, so all the special imperial command performances held outside the private residence are staged here.”
While Jamie’s eyes took in the beauty of the room, it was the joyful song and the clear bright voice of the performer that, for Jamie, were the most beautiful things in the room.
Assembled in the orchestra pit, a small group of musicians – all Avionnes – were playing as the conductor, also an Avionne, directed them. Above the orchestra, standing front center stage was a tall, thin boy. Dressed casually in a short tunic with a red sash-like belt, his stance, though relaxed and at ease, showed the confidence and stage presence of an experienced performer. An honest and genuine smile beamed from his face as he sang the spirited song. He moved his arms in broad and expressive gestures as he sang, and Jamie could see a beautiful jeweled ring on one of the slender fingers of the singer’s right hand. But what impressed him the most was the marvelous beauty and crystal clarity of the singer’s voice and the joy it expressed as he sang what Jamie recognized as a simple Kalorian folk song from Jamie’s own region of Isewier.
The boys stood and listened as the orchestra played and the singer continued. The boy’s voice was vibrant and strong, and it reverberated through the small theater, filling the space with warmth and happiness. The singer continued for a few more minutes as Jamie and his friends stood quietly listening. After they’d entered the theater the singer, noticing them, nodded and his smile broadened while he continued the song, now performing it directly to them. More than once the singer’s eye caught Jamie’s as the boy’s voice rang like a bell. When the final note ended and the strains of the orchestra died away, the singer turned toward the conductor.
“That was beautiful. It’s perfect, Philippe. You’ve done an incredible job with the arrangement, thank you so much,” the singer said, and the smile on his face and the warmth of his tone told Jamie he was most sincere in his gratitude.
“Thank you, Damian,” the conductor replied, “But remember it is a song, not just an orchestral piece. It wouldn’t sound half as good if someone other than you were singing it.”
“You’re too kind,” the singer replied, “but thank you.”
Jamie noticed that both boys gave each other warm smiles, and concluded that they must at the very least be good friends, maybe more.
Turning away from the conductor, Damian looked down from the stage at Jamie and his friends.
“Welcome, Trio Chrysalis,” he said warmly, his hand making a gentle sweep across the stage, “What brings you to the Petit Forum?”
“We were... ah...”
“...practicing.” Yves said, quickly jumping into to fill in Jeremy’s awkward pause.
“You know each other?” Jamie asked, turning to Lucas.
“Of course,” the singer replied, “We’ve performed together on this stage for the Emperor, no?”
“Yes, Damian is officially a member of the imperial household,” Yves said. “He, the conductor Philippe, and the members of this orchestra only perform for the emperor and the imperial court.”
“And whom have you brought with you?” Damian asked as he lightly stroked his wings and floated from the stage to the audience.
“This is Jamie,” Yves said replying to Damian’s question. “He’s a dancer in the junior troupe.”
“You seem a little old for a junior,” Damian said.
“He is,” Lucas said, blurting out his reply, then giving his friend an apologetic look when he saw a frown grow on Jamie’s face.
“It’s a long story,” Jeremy said, trying to quickly cover up the faux pas.
“It’s nice to meet you, Jamie,” Damian said extending his hand.
Jamie looked up at the tall boy and took his hand. The boy’s slender fingers were long and thin, his skin soft and smooth, and Jamie could feel the ring that encircled one of them. Looking down, he noticed that it was made of gold and it featured the emperor’s personal crest surrounded by a ring of small but perfect rubies.
“You were singing a Kalorian song,” Jamie said, finally releasing Damian’s hand.
“Yes, The Summer Lark,” Damian said. “Do you know it?
“I do,” Jamie said, “but it’s Kalorian, and the language is forbidden.”
“That’s true,” Damian said as an unexpected twinkle came to his eye. “Talented artists are allowed a great deal of leeway. There’s a certain amount of tolerance for the sake of the art. Did you know that the emperor is actually very fond of Kalorian folk tunes?”
“Politics is one thing,” Damian said, seeing Jamie’s puzzlement, “and art is another. Look about the room,” Damian continued gesturing around the Petit Hall. “You can see how much the empire appreciates beauty, and if that beauty happens to be in the melody and words of a Kalorian folk song, so be it.”
Jamie paused and pondered Damian’s words, but was quickly pulled back into reality when he heard the deliberate sound of clapping echoing through the room. When the clapping stopped, it was followed by a familiar whirring sound and he saw Cristophe emerge from one of the small alcoves in the back of the theater.
“That was beautiful, Damian,” Cristophe said, then with a twinkle in he eye added, “you really do sing like an angel.”
“Thank you, Cristophe,” Damian replied bowing slightly toward the master prefect. “I noticed your arrival shortly after I began. It’s always nice to see you.”
“And you,” Cristophe said.
“You also know each other?” Jamie asked, surprised at both Cristophe’s sudden appearance and the fact that both boys were acting as friends.
“Yes. Cristophe and I studied at the Imperial Academy at Eagles Rock. We attended the academy over the same time period. In face we both did our Grand Escalades within the same week – as did Philippe,” Damian added gesturing toward the conductor of the orchestra.
“I was doing an errand for the impresario’s office and heard the music; I knew it was you as soon as I heard the song begin, and I had to come in and listen, Cristophe said. Pausing he glanced at Jamie and his friends. “A few minutes later,” Cristophe continued, “I saw these four sneaking in and I moved to the alcove to see what kind of mischief they were up to.”
“We weren’t up to any mischief,” Lucas protested, “We heard the song too, and just wanted to see who was singing.”
“The boys told me they were here to practice,” Damian cheerfully volunteered.
“Practice?” Cristophe said, sending the four boys a suspicious look. “I don’t recall any special practice time assigned to Trio Chrysalis here at the theater, and even if there was, Jamie wouldn’t be practicing with them.”
“Well, we were...”
“Be quiet Lucas,” Jeremy whispered, “He’s already figured it out, don’t make it any worse.”
“So what really brings you here?” Cristophe pointedly asked, “and what kind of trouble have you already caused?”
“None,” Jamie said. “Really, Cristophe, we didn’t do anything. I can explain, but maybe privately. Please?” he added pleadingly glancing from Cristophe to Damian and back to Cristophe.
“I understand,” Cristophe said, catching Jamie’s meaning.
“We’ll leave you to continue,” Cristophe said, turning to Damian, “I’ll take these four with me and sort them out.”
“It was nice seeing you again Cristophe, please come back again, or maybe I can get you invited to one of the parties at the palace,” Damian said, and then turning to the boys added, “and it was also nice to see the boys of Trio Chrysalis and their friend Jamie,” he said, giving everyone a kind and gracious smile.
Bidding the singer goodbye, Cristophe herded the boys out of the Petite Forum. “And what are you really here for?” he asked looking directly at Jamie as if he could sense that he was the instigator.
“We were...” Lucas began.
“No, wait,” Jamie said, cutting Lucas off. “He knows even more than you do. I need to tell the truth.”
And he did, briefly and succinctly telling the master prefect about their second trip to the monastery and his need to see his brother.
“Thank you for the truth,” Cristophe said, while turning toward the boys of Trio Chrysalis and raising an eyebrow. “I think the props department is closed now so we can go there without arousing suspicion,” he added.
For a second all four boys stood with their mouths agape until Jeremy finally spoke up. “You mean you’re letting us do it?”
“As long as I come along – someone has to keep you four out of trouble,” Cristophe said, giving them a knowing grin.
“But the chair...” Lucas began.
“I’ve traveled the gates in the chair before,” Cristophe said, “I’ll just need a little help when I enter, but otherwise I’ll be fine.”
Setting off down the corridor outside the Petite Forum they soon came to a lift and took it to the lowest level of the opera house. After navigating their way through the maze of hallways, rooms, corridors, and storage bays in the bowels of the Mondele that made up the hidden inner workings of the opera house, they came to the props department. Yves opened the door, and they all stepped into a black void.
“Where are the lights?” Lucas asked.
“To your right,” Cristophe replied.
Lucas turned to the right and quickly disappeared into the darkness. There was a loud crash, followed by a curse. A few moments later Lucas’ voice called out from the darkness, “Found it!” and a second after he spoke light flooded the room. Even though they’d only been in the dark for a short time, the sudden shot of bright light caused the boys to squint.
“There it is,” Jeremy said pointing to the large, super gate.
“No, there it is,” Jamie said, pointing to the smaller gate to the right of the super gate. “I don’t think I have enough strength to operate the large gate, but the smaller gate will be perfect.”
“Strength?” Yves asked. “But don’t you have a card?”
“Just watch,” Jamie said, approaching the gate. For a few seconds he stood in front of the smaller gate as if he were studying it, then he turned and looked at his friends. “Once I go through it will close, so all of you need to go through first, and I’ll be the last. After you go through, just stay and wait for me. You’re going to be coming out on something that was part of a building, but it’s... well, you’ll see. Just wait for me, ok?”
The boys nodded their agreement and at Jamie’s request, gathered in front of the gate.
“Ok, ready?” he said, and then without waiting for a reply from his friends, he began to concentrate.
“I don’t understand,” Jeremy said. “The device to read the card is right here,” he gestured to a small glowing box on the side of the gate. “He should be closer for it to...”
Suddenly the gate began to glow and Jeremy’s eyes widened when he turned and saw his friend standing quietly, looking off into space and moving his lips in some silent chant.
“How are you doing that?” Lucas exclaimed. But Jamie continued to just stand silently, concentrating. Finally, Jamie motioned with one of his hands toward the gate.
“I think he wants us to enter,” Cristophe said. “Can you help me through?”
The three boys stumbled over each other, jockeying to help Cristophe. Finally Yves took the back of the chair and helped the master prefect through the gate. Seconds later, they disappeared. Jeremy followed. After he disappeared, Lucas turned and looked back at Jamie, still seemingly lost in thought and oblivious to his surroundings.
“I’ll be plucked,” Lucas said softly, a mischievous smile bloomed on his face as he prepared to step across the threshold of the gateway.
After all his friends had disappeared, Jamie, continuing to concentrate, walked toward the glowing doorway and passed through the gate. Seconds later he was standing on the other side to find his friends staring wide-eyed at him.
“How long have you been able to do that?” Lucas asked.
“Since before I ever came here,” Jamie replied.
“You mean all this time you could do that and you never told us?” Lucas continued, “Think of all the places we could have...”
“Forget that,” Jeremy said, cutting Lucas off. “Just look at this place.”
They’d emerged from the gate in the same spot that Jamie and Charlie first stepped onto over two years before. Perched high in the air on an open landing of what was left of a mostly damaged and decaying building, Jeremy turned to Jamie. Gesturing toward the twisted ruins of the dead and deserted city that stretched to the distant horizon, he shook his head in both amazement and disbelief. “What is this place?” he finally asked.
“The Kingdom of Ghröum,” Jamie replied.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Yves said.
“You’re about to see a lot of things you never heard of,” Jamie said giving his friends a serious look, “but first we have to leave; it’s not safe here. Follow me,” he called out to his friends, and stroking his wings, he jumping off the landing so that he hovered a few feet above them.
“Wait!” Yves yelled back. “We have to help Cristophe.”
“Oh, sorry,” Jamie said, touching back down on a nearby railing.
“I still can use my wings,” Cristophe said, “I just need your help. If one of you gets on either side so I can drape my arms around your shoulders...”
“But what about the chair?” Lucas asked.
The chair was heavy – far heavier than the boys could manage. For a few minutes, Jamie paced the broad beam of what was left of one of the remaining railing still attached to the landing, looking more like one of the acrobatic students at the École than one of its dancers. In the meantime, Jeremy and Lucas argued about how they could maneuver the chair. Just when they thought they might have to either send Cristophe back or completely abandon their plan, Yves caught a glimpse of what appeared to be three rather large objects in the distance, flying toward them. Shouting out to his friends, he pointed toward the sky.
For a few seconds everyone stared, as the objects grew larger. When it was clear what they were Cristophe, Jeremy, Yves and Lucas froze.
“Monsters!” Lucas shouted in a panic. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“No,” Jamie calmly replied, “they’re friends,” as the three massive gray figures drew closer and began to descend toward the ledge.
“Friends?” Lucas croaked, “You’ve got to be joking. They look angry to me.”
“They’re not angry,” Jamie replied. “We’re in no danger. I know they look fierce, but they won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“What kind of friends look like angry, flying mountains ready to crush you?” Lucas cried.
“By the emperor’s beard,” Yves whispered, stepping back toward the gate.
But before anyone could say or do anything further, the three large figures touched down on the exposed ledge. After they landed Jamie recognized Ga’tann, who immediately approached the boys. Lumbering behind Ga’tann, Jamie could see Ta’vrun and Ga’dhat.
Cristophe, his movements on the ledge constrained by his chair, faced the three newcomers calmly. His face was still and resolute, his hands folded in his lap. Jamie’s other friends backed away from the large creatures that were now approaching them. Once the Ghröum were in front of Jamie, they paused. Ga’tann looked down at Jamie, his face contorted into a menacing grimace. But it was the deep and fierce sounding growl that emerged from Ga’tann’s mouth’s that scared Jeremy so much he took one final step backward, and since he was at a spot were the railing was missing, he unexpectedly lost his balance. Only Yves’ quick grasp of Jeremy’s wrist prevented the boy from falling over the edge.
“Welcome back to us, Garon a’ Kalasia,” Ga’dhat thoughts merged with Jamie’s, “The days of the tempest come; we’ve sensed it for some time.”
“And the boy who rides the storm prepares to mount the four winds,” Ta’vrun added.
“But how did you know I was coming?” Jamie asked, surprised.
“We sensed something, but Garon a’ Solais told us you were here,” Ta’vrun replied.
“Charlie? Charlie knew I was here?”
“His powers continue to grow. He knew before we did,” Ga’tann thoughts washed over Jamie.
But before Jamie could continue his mental conversation with Ga’tann, his mind was bathed in a storm of thought and in an instant he could see the previous two years laid out before him and he observed his brother’s amazing progress.
“Now we will take you to him,” Ga’tann added. “Remember, you cannot stay in this place very long.”
Breaking away from the thoughts of the Ghröum, Jamie looked over to his friends and realized they were staring at him in shocked amazement. Jamie introducing the boys to the three Ghröum, and he watched in amusement as each flinched when one by one the large gray creatures grimaced, showed their very sharp teeth and roared.
Although he assured them that the Ghröum were happy to meet them and were in fact giving them broad and warm smiles, the boys continued to keep their distance. Since they had to leave the dead city as quickly as possible, Jamie began to explain to the Ghröum the dilemma they faced in trying to help Cristophe. He stopped when Ga’tann stepped forward, bent down, carefully plucked Cristophe from his chair, and then cradling the boy gently in his arms, leapt off the balcony. Ta’vrun went to Cristophe’s chair, picked it up the as if it were as light as a feather, and took off after Ga’tann. Ga’dhat followed.
“Let’s go,” Jamie called out to a wide-eyed Yves, Jeremy and Lucas as he jumped off the ledge and stroked his wings.
“At least we get to fly, even if it’s to our death at the hands of monsters,” Lucas said as he, Jeremy and Yves stroked their wings and took off from the ledge.
Jamie and his friends followed the Ghröum to and then through a second gate, and when the boys exited the gate into the rock-hewn tunnel, they began to question Jamie regarding their final destination.
“I’ll explain,” he replied, and he did as they continued to follow the Ghröum through a series of tunnels.
When they finally reached the rocky landing that Jamie knew so well, the boys gasped when they saw the enormity of the great cavern that opened like a canyon before them. But what amazed them even more was the small city nestled there.
“We’re deep below the city,” Jamie said, anticipating his friends’ questions. “There was a war of some kind. They’ve never really explained it completely to me, but they were forced underground to survive.”
“It looks dead,” Yves said taking in the view beneath his feet.
“It is, mostly,” Jamie replied. “Very few of them survived.”
“I have a hundred questions,” Jeremy said.
“I have a thousand,” Lucas added.
“I know,” Jamie said. “And I’ll answer what I can – later. I still have a lot to learn myself. For now, we need to follow. Just come along, and after a while you’ll know as much as I do.”
Standing at the top of the broad staircase with its many landings the boys waited, then blinked in astonishment when the three hulking Ghröum jumped over the top railing in a smooth, practiced maneuver that any dancer at the academy might have executed. Pausing for a few seconds to watch the Ghröum’s descent, they followed Jamie a few moments after he leapt over the edge, calling out for his friends to follow. By the time they landed and caught up with the Ghröum, Ga’tann was gently placing Cristophe back into his chair.
Soon they were walking down the deserted streets of the city until they came upon a small square – empty except for an Avionne boy, standing with three more Ghröum. The party led by Ga’tann halted, all except Jamie. Jamie’s friends watched as he first strode quickly then broke into a quick trot across the square. The boy at the opposite end of the square did the same. Approaching the boy, Jamie held out his arms and in an instant the two boys were in each other’s arms, hugging fiercely.
Jamie held on to Charlie for quite some time, overjoyed to see his younger brother. When the two boys finally ended their hug, they stood back and both looked each other over and smiled.
“You’re a little older and maybe a few inches taller,” Charlie said, grinning. “But you’re almost the same as when I last saw you.”
“I can say the same about you,” Jamie said – for some illogical reason he’d been worried that his younger brother might have gotten taller and overshadowed him, but both boys had grown at the same rate and Charlie remained about an inch shorter than Jamie. But then, both boys also knew that their species aged at a glacial pace compared to humans. And other than the normal changes of Icarian puberty that Jamie was now going through and Charlie had just entered, two years were all but insignificant.
Within seconds of separating, the boys reached out in thought to each other and began to share the previous two years each had experienced. While the encounter was brief, it was thorough. Jamie was amazed to see how strong Charlie’s abilities had become – a strength he couldn’t match. Yet he could also see that his brother’s skills were quite different from his own abilities – had Father planned for this?
Charlie was amazed to learn about Jamie’s life, and in some ways envied his older brother’s adventures, even the ones that weren’t so pleasant. But in the end, Charlie was just glad to see that Jamie had remained safe and well. And although Charlie’s two year seclusion had been quiet, it hadn’t been without activity, for not only could Jamie feel his brother’s increased power, he could also sense a growth in knowledge and intellect.
“Charlie, we don’t have a lot of time,” Jamie finally said, breaking the mental connection. “We can’t stay long.”
“I know,” Charlie said quietly.
“But now that we’re finally together again, I promise I’ll come back, and more often.”
But even as he said the words, Jamie was wondering how he would keep this promise. It had taken a great deal of planning, cunning, deception and most of all luck to arrange this encounter. Would that luck continue for another time and the time after that?
Still Charlie smiled when he heard his brother’s words. “I know it hasn’t been easy for you, Jam,” he said. “I really missed you.
“And I missed you too.”
While they’d spoken the words, neither boy needed to tell the other how he felt – each having just felt and experienced what the other had over the past two years.
“But Jamie, if you can’t come, we can stay in touch now even when we’re apart,” Charlie added.
“How?” Jamie asked.
“You know how you can connect to the net?” Charlie said.
“Well, I can do the same thing.”
“But you don’t have the net here,” Jamie replied, “and there are no informatics stations.”
“I don’t need any. I can get to the net, but in a different way. I tap into the satellite system.”
“You’re joking,” Jamie said, giving his brother a surprised look. “How did you manage that?”
“With help,” Charlie said, looking over his shoulder to the Ghröum.
“It is not something we ourselves can do,” Ga’tann said. “But Garon a’ Solais’ powers are far greater than ours, so in time we were able to guide him.”
“That’s incredible,” Jamie said, giving the large creatures standing behind Charlie an admiring glance.
“After I learned to do it, I still couldn’t contact you,” Charlie added “Ga’tann said it was too dangerous. He told me that you’d have to help me. Jam, what did they mean?”
“I think I know,” Jamie said. “If you can tap into the satellite system you’d be able to access the net, but you need to know where you’re going. You need a destination. If not, you might be discovered. I can help you with that. Before we leave, I’ll show you. I’ll create a place where we can meet. If I build it right, we can hide there while we’re in contact, and our presence will be undetectable.”
“That would be excellent!” Charlie said, stroking his wings and making a small leap of joy into the air.
“But before I do that, I need your help,” Jamie replied before Charlie’s feet touched the ground.
“First, there’s something I need to show you,” Jamie said, and quickly switched from speech to thought. “No one else can know what I’m going to show you, Charlie... NO ONE! Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand. I’ll keep it secret, I promise.”
“It’s very important that you do,” Jamie said. “I’m going to make an excuse to talk to you in private for a few minutes. What I’m about to tell you will be very unexpected and I’m sure will shock you. I can’t take any chances that your reaction may alert the others that something is amiss. This must remain a secret – at least for now – even from the Ghröum. When we come back, you’ll have to act normally. Do you understand?”
“Yes Jamie, I do, but you have me a little scared.”
“You’ll have every reason to be, but you have to remain calm.”
“I’ll do my best, Jam.”
But before they could do anything further, Lucas, Jeremy, Yves and Cristophe approached and gathered around Jamie and Charlie.
“I’ll be plucked,” Lucas said as a smile came to his face. “Look at them – there’s two of them. Two imperials, and brothers... real brothers.”
“Can you really tell?” Jamie asked.
“Can we tell...?” Jeremy began, his tone astonished.
“Besides being imperials,” Cristophe said, “just looking at both of you, it’s impossible not to take you for brothers. You’re so similar – no one could miss it.”
Charlie and Jamie looked at each other and laughed. From the time they were small, all they’d ever done was stress their own individualities – as siblings often do. They’d never taken the time to explore the fact that besides being brothers, there were things about them that might be similar.
“I guess we never looked at it that way,” Charlie said.
“I’m sorry,” Jamie quickly interjected, “I should have introduced you to each other.” And with that he did. When he was finished introducing Charlie to each of his friends, he did the same with his friends and the six Ghröum who stood nearby; he couldn’t help smiling to himself each time one of the Ghröum would roar their pleasure at meeting the boys and all of them – especially Lucas – would flinch.
When he was finished with his introductions, Jamie turned to the Ghröum. A solemn look came to his face and to the surprise of his friends he executed a deep bow – its action and form the work of a practiced dancer – in a display of reverent gratitude.
“Thank you,” Jamie began in thoughts beamed to the large, gray-winged creatures. “I can never express how grateful I am to you.” Moving his head slightly to stare at his brother he smiled, allowing his gaze to rest on Charlie for a few seconds, before once more turning his full attention to the Ghröum and bowing a second time while he thanked them yet again.
“We could have done no less,” Ga’tann replied. “We did as you requested Garon a’ Kalasia, but even had you not, we would have watched over Garon a’ Solais.”
“And defended him to our deaths,” Ta’vrun added.
“I know,” Jamie said, “but I still thank you; I am forever in great debt to you.”
“There is no debt, Garon a’ Kalasia,” Ga’dhat replied. “To stand in the warmth of the sun is never a difficult task.”
After Jamie’s brief exchange with the Ghröum was over, he reminded his friends that their time was quickly running out. But before going, Jamie took leave of them, using the excuse that he wanted a few moments alone with his brother. No one objected since the two boys hadn’t seen each other for such a long time and from the easy acquiescence of the group, Jamie was sure no one suspected anything. Jamie and Charlie walked out of the square, leaving Cristophe and Trio Chrysalis with the Ghröum; turning back to look at his friends, Jamie smiled as he watched each group carefully study the other in silence.
Once they were inside a small house Jamie’d picked out, he closed the door. “Are you ready?” Jamie asked, once Charlie was facing him.
“I guess,” Charlie replied in a chary tone.
Jamie paused took a breath and began to send his thoughts, thoughts he’d successfully shielded from Charlie during their first sharing at their reunion. While Charlie was by far stronger, Jamie’d honed his skills of stealth to perfection. Years of navigating the net while avoiding detection had taught him much about cloaking.
The exchange took only seconds, but when it was complete Charlie was pale. “Are you sure?” he asked with a quaver in his voice he made no attempt to hide.
“I’m sure,” Jamie replied. “At first I didn’t see anything, but then I realized that I was looking at it the wrong way.”
“Father... did he...?”
“I don’t know, Charlie. I honestly don’t know. The plan was, and still remains, true Kalorian and Icarian freedom. I can’t imagine Father not telling me about this.”
“What are you going to do, Jam?”
“You mean, what are we going to do?” Jamie quickly interjected. “This is bigger than either of us. Even united, I don’t know if we can do it. We may even...” he paused and took a deep breath. “We may even need Loran if he’ll help us.”
“Do you think he would?”
“I don’t know, Charlie. You know I saw him at Gold Glass.”
“Yes,” Charlie said reviewing the scene in his mind just as his brother had experienced it. “But you didn’t talk to him.”
“I don’t know what to say, Jamie,” Charlie said in a near whisper. “It’s... very...”
“Yes, you don’t have to say it. I know how bad it is.”
“But what can we do, Jam?”
“I don’t know yet; I still can’t help thinking that no one has any idea – not even Father or anyone on the Imperial Scientific Council. All I can tell you is that I have to learn more. I wanted to talk to the Ghröum as soon as we got here about it, but first I think I have to investigate more on my own. I’m not even sure I know the right questions to ask them.”
“I know what you mean,” Charlie said. “But I promise, Jamie, I won’t tell, and I promise to try and shield my thoughts so they don’t suspect.”
“You can’t just try, Charlie. You have to do it. I’ll show you a few tricks I use. Practice them and just work at getting stronger,” Jamie said. “I need you now more than ever. Because before we even deal with it, we still have the empire to think about. And I thought that they were going to be our biggest threat.”
For a few seconds neither brother spoke, nor did any stream of thought pass between them. Standing in silence, they simply stared at each other.
“We’d best get back,” Jamie finally said, rousing both of them from their deep thoughts. “We don’t want anyone to suspect anything.”
Charlie nodded thoughtfully and walked toward the door, but before he was able to open it Jamie called out to him.
“Wait, Charlie,” Jamie said, “there is one other thing I need your help with. It fact, it was the reason I was trying to see you before I discovered this... this... other thing.”
“What do you need?” Charlie asked.
“Well, you’re the genius in history, and politics,” Jamie began. “I need you to teach me about war.”
“Yes Charlie, war. I want to learn as much about it as I can: about battles, the armies that fought them, and the generals that commanded them. I want to know why important battles were won, but I also want to know why they were lost.”
“I wish Mobley could hear you now,” Charlie said, starting to laugh. “My brother, my science-minded brother, whose thoughts were always miles away when Mobley lectured us on history.”
“I guess I’ve started to realize how important that knowledge can be.”
“Charlie, what I just showed you is overwhelming, but before we even get to that day – if indeed it comes – there is a revolution that will need to be fought. I was never sure how, I only know I promised Father I’d try, but from the moment I gave him my oath up to today I haven’t had any ideas. He told me I’d come to the solution in my own way. He even told me that I’d have help – although up to now I’ve been completely on my own, but at least now I think I know what part of the solution may involve. Will you... can you help me?”
“I’ll try,” Charlie replied, still surprised at his brother’s request. “But many things go into a war. The spirit and determination of the participants along with the cause they are fighting for. Add to that the training and skill of the troops, the understanding of strategy by the generals, along with the ability of their officers to obey – and sometimes even disobey – direct orders. Not to mention the terrain, the time of day, the weather and even if the army has been well rested and well fed. And that’s only the beginning. There’s so much more, and so many variables.”
“I know all of that, Charlie. I need to know more. I need you to help me understand... to interpret the factors and consider the variables, and how they combine to create the eventual outcome. I especially need to find examples of how a small army or band of rebels defeated a large, well-equipped force – one that vastly outnumbered them. I want to know why and how they won when the odds were so stacked against them. I want to become an expert in war.”
“I’ll help you Jamie, but I don’t want you to get killed.”
“I’m not trying to become that type of general, Charlie, charging at the head of a phalanx of troops. I want to become a strategist. I want to take what you teach me and see what commonalities I can discover. I want to turn war into an equation.”
“I don’t think you can do that,” Charlie said, shaking his head while giving his older brother a doubting look. “There are just too many variables.”
“It’s not what you think,” Jamie said. “I know there are hundreds of variables. I’m not looking for a formula for victory, I’m looking for something else – call it an advantage, or an edge.”
“Well, generals have been trying to figure that out as long as armies have fought,” Charlie replied skeptically.
“I know. I’m not saying I’ll succeed, but I at least want to try, and knowing you’ll help means everything to me.”
“Do you really think we can succeed?” Charlie asked.
“We’re brothers, Charlie,” Jamie said. “You’re the expert in history, politics and government, but even I remember enough examples from our study of Commonwealth history to know that there have been many decisive moments when two brothers made a difference. Remember the story Mobley told us about the founding of a great imperial city by two brothers raised by a wolf? And how, many centuries later, two brothers tried to save the very same empire, but were killed?”
“Yes, and there were other times when the brothers themselves died,” Charlie quickly replied. “Remember the two who were assassinated, when the mother world was just venturing off their planet?”
“Of course. And I remember the two brothers that formed the first planetary alliance to end the solar wars. They were murdered the same day they were to sign the peace treaty. But I also remember Jax and Ganna who created the first interstellar alliance, and the Tallas brothers who halted the advance of the Grangers, and the two Granger brothers – Sallas and Mars – who were wise enough to stop fighting and accept the terms of the Tallas brothers – which was the beginning of the early Commonwealth. And...”
“...yes, and quite a few more,” Charlie said, “Maybe your mind wasn’t as far away as I thought it was when Mobley was teaching us.”
“I’ve been studying for the past two years,” Jamie said. “But for now, before we go, let me create a place for us to meet on the net. If we do it now and both go there, you’ll know how to return to the proper place when I’m not with you. We can start meeting – at least in thought. I don’t ever want to be out of touch with you again, Charlie.”
“Me too, Jam. I’ve missed you terribly.”
It only took a minute for Jamie to access the net. Although there were no informatics stations or technology of any kind to access, following Charlie’s directions he joined his mind with that of his brother and rode on Charlie’s thoughts to one of the beacons that made up the planetary satellite system. Once connected, the brothers’ roles were reversed and Charlie – while maintaining the link – rode on Jamie’s thoughts as his older brother created a safe and secure space for them on the web. When Jamie was done, Charlie broke the connection and the two boys went back to their friends where they waited in the square.
“Done,” Jamie said smiling when they’d finished. “Now while I access the net from one of the schools informatics stations, you can access it from the satellite system and we can meet at the location I’ve created. Think of it as a hidden room no one can see. We’re the only ones who’ll know about it – as long as we keep it secret.”
Wrapping up his explanation, Jamie reluctantly reminded Charlie it was soon time for him to go. Moments later Jamie and his friends were preparing to leave, and although their emotional goodbye was still difficult, both Jamie and Charlie knew that from now on they could at least share their thoughts
Just as they had accompanied the boys earlier, Ga’tann, Ga’dhat, and Ta’vrun returned with them to the desolate city and the only remaining portal that connected to main system, helping with Cristophe and his chair. Finally, they stood again before the first gate they’d come through. Jamie concentrated and enlivened it with power. Once it was ready for transport, he directed his friends to pass through it. In seconds they were back in the props department of the opera house. Once there, they hurried from the building. As they stepped outside, Lucas cursed when he saw it was almost dark.
“We’ve missed supper,” he said.
“Is your stomach the only thing you ever think of?” Yves asked.
“Well, most of the time,” Lucas replied, “but what I was really thinking is that we’re going to be in trouble – again – for missing dinner and breaking curfew.”
“At least Cristophe’s with us,” Jeremy said.
“No, he’s not,” Jamie said.
His three friends from Trio Chrysalis gave him a surprised look. Jamie was about to explain, but Cristophe answered first.
“He’s right,” Cristophe began. “If anyone knows that I was with you, they’ll definitely suspect something is amiss. I’m a prefect, so I can come and go as I wish. No one will monitor me coming to the school late. As far as anyone knows, I was doing some errands, so here’s where I leave you. The four of you have gotten in more trouble over the years than anyone else in the history of the school, so a simple curfew violation won’t be questioned. Yes, you’ll have to face some sort of punishment, but it will be minor compared to what would happen if anyone knew about where we’ve just come from and who we’ve meet.”
“You’re right,” Jeremy said as Yves and Lucas nodded their agreement.
“But don’t worry, you won’t get punished,” Jamie said.
“What are you talking about?” Lucas asked. “You can be sure that the three of us were missed at supper just as much you were.”
“Maybe so, but I’m going to tell Jakobus that it was because of me that we’re late.”
“No,” Jeremy protested
“Once again, he’s right,” Cristophe said. “The less we make of this incident, the better. If Jamie takes the blame he’ll suffer the consequences, but it’s not like he’s never visited the pot sink before.”
“Exactly,” Jamie said. “Now isn’t the time to take chances.”
“And besides,” Cristophe added, a sly grin coming to his face “The Kalorians have a soft spot for him.”
“That’s the truth,” Lucas said in an envious tone of voice. “They like you. You always get easier treatment.”
“So we agree?” Jamie asked, ignoring Lucas remark.
“We agree,” Yves said, looking to Lucas and Jeremy who nodded their assent.
When they arrived back at the École, the dining hall was dark and Jamie wasn’t surprised when they were met at the refectory door by Jakobus.
“You’re late,” he said curtly, “But we’ve already cleaned up most of the mess, so I only need one of you at the pot sink.”
“Then it will be me,” Jamie sighed. “It was my fault we were late.”
“For some reason I’m not surprised,” Jakobus said. “I’ve saved some food for all of you. Sit here, and I’ll see that you’re served. When you’ve finished, you three will immediately go to your rooms,” he added, looking directly at Yves, Lucas and Jeremy.
“And when you’re finished,” he continued, turning to Jamie, “report to the kitchen. I was going to choose you anyway; I’m glad you saved me an argument. Now, come with me and help me bring out the food so you and your friends can eat.” And with that he walked through the kitchen door, beckoning Jamie to follow.
“And you all said I’d get special treatment,” Jamie stage whispered as he turned to follow Jakobus. “He already made up his mind that he was going to choose me.”
Although it was difficult for Jeremy, Yves and Lucas to keep silent about their trip to Ghröum, they resisted temptation and remained quiet on the subject while they ate.
When the boys were finished with their supper, Jamie headed to the kitchen while his three friends returned to the senior dormitory. Once in the kitchen, Jamie went to the pot sink and surveyed the mountain of pots awaiting him. The large quantity meant he would be going to his room late – probably around the same time the ringing chimes of the clock would signal lights out. Taking a scrub brush in one hand and one of the dirtier pots in the other, he sighed to himself and began to scrub. The kitchen was still abustle with activity as some of the Kalorian kitchen staff scurried about finishing their cleaning chores from supper, while others prepared for the next day’s breakfast. Jamie, certainly not a stranger to the pot sink, quickly tuned out the surrounding activity and concentrated on his task while his mind began to drift back to his visit with Charlie and the Ghröum.
After a few minutes he was roused from his thoughts. “You missed a spot,” a flat, dry voice coming from behind him commented.
Giving the pot he’d just finished scrubbing a careful examination, Jamie frowned. “It’s completely clean,” he said, placing it to the side and reaching for the next pot.
“No, it needs a more through scrubbing,” the voice replied, sounding even more insistent.
“Its perfectly clean,” Jamie said curtly – sounding both exasperated and annoyed. He’d volunteered to take the blame for being late to dinner, but he wasn’t going to be bullied as he performed his punishment.
“I see you still try to rush through things,” the voice said, in what Jamie now took for a mocking tone.
“I wasn’t rushing,” Jamie said, and angrily dropped the pot into the hot water, where it created a small, roiling wave that splashed up and landed on him. Now wet and angry, he turned to face his critic. Opening his mouth, he started to make what he hoped would be an acid-laced retort. It was then that he saw who’d been standing behind him. Shocked, Jamie dropped the sponge he was holding. It hit the floor with a soggy plop, sending a stream of soapy droplets across the tiles and for a few seconds he simply stared with his mouth agape until finally he broke out of his trance and jumped into Castor’s arms.
For over a minute no words were spoken as Jamie hugged the former head of household of Villa Mare Vista. Likewise, Castor hugged his former charge fiercely and stroked the boy’s light blond hair.
Finally breaking their grip on each other, Jamie looked up at the man who’d supervised his pot scrubbing punishment years before.
“Castor,” he said, trying with all his might to speak in a soft and calm voice. “How?”
A half smile came to the old Kalorian’s face. “We were all able to escape before the imperial troops came. All except... except your father,” he said softly and the smile that had formed after seeing Jamie disappeared as a look of sorrow appeared on Castor’s face.
“Your father always knew that there was a possibility he might be discovered. He had his ways of knowing. A small but efficient band of spies and resistance fighters – many hidden survivors of the first Kalorian rebellion, along with others – were part of his intelligence network. We were warned in time. His lab and research staff – who were all human – quickly left, and blended into the fabric of the empire.”
“And all the Kalorians?” Jamie asked, glad to finally hear the true story of what had happened two years previous.
“We split up and went to the settlements. Isewier has always been semi-autonomous. As long as we’re obedient and keep things running smoothly in the settlements, the farms, and the processing facilities, we’re left alone. It’s one of the few places in the empire where we knew we’d be safe. There were a few months when they searched for us, but there are many Kalorians in the provinces and there were so few of us that we were never discovered.”
As Castor unraveled the tale for Jamie the boy would occasionally interrupt, asking about specific members of the household. Each time, Castor would stop and tell what had happened to them and where they were, and to Jamie’s amazement and relief he learned that every single one of the staff was alive and safe.
“But what about Father?” Jamie asked, and Castor’s eyes cast a downward glace to the floor when he heard the pain and puzzlement in the boy’s voice.
“He chose to remain, Jamie,” Castor replied. “You and Charlie were away, and for that we were both worried and relieved.”
“Well, relieved because you weren’t there to be discovered, but worried because we knew you would return and if it were at the wrong moment...”
“...we’d be captured.”
“Yes,” Castor said, “you’d be captured. But Croal sent us off. He told us that you’d know what to do. I fought with him about it. I kept insisting that I should stay, but he’d have nothing of it. He made us remove every trace of Charlie, and as we did, he ordered all the lab technicians and assistants to destroy as much of the lab and his records as possible. I didn’t think we’d succeed, but we did. When I asked about your room, he told us to keep it as it was. I argued with him about that, too. But he said you needed to be discovered. He had a lot of faith in you, Jamie. Now, I can see why.”
Jamie quietly described what had happened after he returned to the villa, his trip to Gold Glass and his eventual enrollment in the dance academy, and just as he’d interrupted Castor during his narrative, Castor also interrupted his former charge during Jamie’s telling of the story of his life on the Mountain of the Arts over the past two years. When the Kalorian finally asked about Charlie, Jamie told him that his younger brother was safe, but wouldn’t say more. Castor nodding in understanding, and didn’t press the boy for any details.
“Your father told me that even through you were young, you were the best choice to be Charlie’s protector, and I see that he was right,” Castor said.
“So how did you get here?” Jamie asked, still amazed to see Castor standing before him.
“After a few months of hiding in the settlements, and tapping into the network of spies in the resistance, I learned what happened to you. From that point on, I was determined to get to you. It took a year and a half, but through the underground resistance along with some of our human sympathizers and supporters, I was bought and sold, and through a careful series of trades and favors ended up assigned here. Actually, I’m officially here as a gift to the school from a wealthy benefactor.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jamie said sadly.
“Sorry? Why? I thought you’d be happy to see me?”
“Of course, I’m happy! I’m beyond happy, but to be sold and treated like a slave...”
“It is what we are,” Castor said flatly. “None of that matters. What matters is that I’m with you now. You’re not alone anymore.”
“I’m not completely alone here,” Jamie said, quickly telling Castor of Cristophe and his three friends from Trio Chrysalis.
“Yes, I’ve already done some inquiring with the staff. The master prefect is very well liked and much respected, and you were fortunate to make a friend with him, but this Trio Chrysalis... I’ve heard of the mischief they’ve caused, and your oft-times involvement,” Castor said.
“It’s not like that,” Jamie said in protest. “They’re the best friends anyone could have. I couldn’t have survived without them.”
“If you say so, young master,” Castor said giving Jamie a skeptical look. “But for now I think it best for you to go to your quarters. I’m now one of the staff of the school. I’ve been assigned here to the kitchen, even though I know little about preparing food. But although I’m here, I would suggest you don’t give me too much notice. We don’t need anyone to discover our true connection. Just know that I will be here; in time I’ll have more contact with you, but for now we will see each other only by chance. Do you understand, Jamie?”
Nodding his assent, Jamie agreed. “What about the pots?” Jamie asked, “And my punishment?”
“There is no punishment,” Castor said. “Jakobus agreed to get you into the kitchen so we could meet – and we have. This mess will be cleaned up later, by someone else. Now, off to bed with you.”
After giving Castor one final hug Jamie walked quickly to the kitchen door, but then turned around and returned to stand in front of the Kalorian.
“Castor,” Jamie asked, “What about Spinosa? What happened to him?”
A smile grew on Castor’s face. “Spinosa is fine. He misses you, but he’s well. Maybe someday you can see him, just not now.”
Smiling at the news, Jamie accepted Castor’s answer, for as much as he would have loved to see Spinosa, he knew it would raise questions, although now that he’d discovered the little garga lizard was fine his mind began to think of some way he could regain possession of his pet.
Giving Castor one final hug and bidding him goodnight, Jamie went to his room, happier than he’d ever been since he’d come to the school. After pulling on his sleep shorts and preparing for bed, he gave his usual three knocks on the common wall his and Cristophe’s room shared. Cristophe, still awake, gave his three knocks in reply, and then placing his head on his pillow, Jamie fell asleep.
In the three weeks after making contact with Charlie and discovering Castor was now at the school, Jamie was able to maintain regular contact with Charlie. While his brother could quickly beam his thoughts out and uplink with one of the satellite beacons in orbit above the planet, Jamie needed the assistance of hard technology in the form of a direct link with the net, but since he’d long ago become a regular at the library, it hadn’t posed a problem, and the two boys were able to establish and maintain regular contact.
Charlie, for his part, took the promise he’d made to Jamie seriously and began to school his brother in the art of war. Jamie, always eager to learn new knowledge, absorbed his lessons like a sponge.
Jamie continued to update Charlie on his life at the academy. The fact that both brothers could exchange thoughts instantaneously made long periods of communication unnecessary, although when there was time they’d often visit with each other and, like most boys, talk of things that might be considered trivial and insignificant to an outsider – but these topics and conversations served to further strengthen their brotherly bond and love for each other.