The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 26

One day, a month into their renewed connection, Jamie ended a conversation with Charlie, signed off the library’s informatics station, and returned to his room. It was a day five, and although he hadn’t practiced that morning – due to a meeting Sprague had with the school’s director – he nevertheless had to get ready for the usual evening performance at the opera house.

The day was sunny and bright and it was early afternoon when Jamie, after cutting through one of the nearby parks to save time, returned to the junior dormitory. Once back in his room, Jamie quickly gathered his dance slippers, checked one final time to make sure he had everything he needed, and jogged back down the stairs to the courtyard of the school, joining his fellow classmates for their usual walk to the Mondele.

Upon arriving at the opera house the junior troupe, harried by Sprague’s shouts and threats, rushed to their usual dressing suite in the basement. Since it was customary for dancers not to be served lunch at the school on performance days, the boys arrived at the opera house hungry and ready for the light meal that was waiting for them in the form of a buffet. It was designed to be substantial enough to ease their hunger and provide enough energy for their performance without causing lethargy. The boys efficiently polished off their pre-performance supper, eating both quickly and quietly. They all knew from experience that anyone suspected of lingering over the meal ran the risk of Dance Master Sprague’s wrath and a future session with the boot. When they were finished, they handed off their dirty plates and silverware. Moving to the perimeters of the studio, most of the boys carefully tucked back their wings and sat quietly on the floor leaning against the wall. A few took advantage of the barre attached to the walls of the studio and began to bend and stretch.

As the remnants of the meal were quickly cleared away, the costume and make-up crews appeared. Quite familiar with the routine, each boy removed his tunic, stripped down to his dance belt, and began to pull on the tights, tops and accessories supplied to him by the costume department. One boy who’d just been approved by Sprague to perform with the junior troupe was so excited, he began to pull his tights on backwards and had to be corrected. Most of the others dressed quickly, eagerly anticipating their time on stage.

Standing in a corner of the room, Jamie shook his head and sighed as he slowly pulled on the green-and-gray spotted tights he’d been given. For what seemed like the hundredth time, he would again be playing a wood sprite. And while there was an undercurrent of excitement coming from the younger boys, it was not a feeling shared by the oldest dancer in the junior troupe. Jamie’s endless tenure in the junior company had long since taken any joy or enthusiasm out of what he was about to do.

After the boys finished dressing, they were given a final inspection by the costumers who, after making a few last minute adjustments, turned the boys over to make-up. The make-up artists made their rounds from boy to boy lining eyes, applying power, daubing rouge on cheeks, and painting the young dancers' lips a bright, cherry red. To complete the illusion of wood sprites, pointed tips were carefully applied to each boy’s ears with adhesive. Finally the young dancers lined up in three rows in front of the colorists, who sprayed each boy’s wings a bluish green color, followed by a sprinkling of sparkling, golden glitter.

Jamie took his spot in the queue; it slowly inched forward as each boy was sprayed, glittered, and sent on his way. Standing before the colorist, he turned so that his wings could be sprayed – it was the one thing he hated the most. His large, white wings had a beautiful blue iridescence. Living and studying in a place where beauty was prized, even those boys who shunned or made fun of him were secretly envious of his wings. Every time the thick, sharp smelling coating was applied to his wings, Jamie couldn’t help but shudder, and after every performance, the instant he arrived back at the school, Jamie was one of the first to run to the bath, strip, and stand under the warm shower until every trace of the awful color was rinsed away.

When all the boys were judged to be fully prepared, they went into a large practice room where they would do the final run-through of their act. As they entered the room, many of the boys went to the mounted wall bars that encircled the room and began their stretching exercises. After a few minutes Sprague arrived, shouting a string of orders and the occasional curse as the boys rushed to line up in formation. Jamie took his usual position – third line, first spot on the right – assumed first position, and awaited the Dance Master's prompt to begin. A few of the younger boys were fidgeting, and two of the more experienced dancers weren’t in first position when Sprague gave the command – a serious offence that immediately brought a tirade of shouted insults that the dance master directed at the entire troupe.

In a corner of the studio one of the student musicians from the music school sat at a piano. Sprague gave a command, the student started to play, and the boys in the junior troupe began to move with the music. Jamie felt like an automaton going through steps he’d practiced and performed endlessly before. As he danced, boredom took over and the music began to fade away as his mind wandered back to what he’d seen at the Monastery of Infinity, and his visits with Charlie, but his lack of attention was a serious lapse. With his mind elsewhere, he failed to make a turn with the others and was hit hard on his right side by one of the other dancer’s wings. He stumbled, tripped, and ended up sprawled on the floor.

Like a hungry spider pounces on a hapless fly caught in its web, Sprague was instantly standing over him. Jamie looked up into the dance master’s angry face, and then quickly looked away. He knew what was coming.

“Two years,” Sprague began softly and deliberately, with an icy undercurrent of rage detectable in his voice. “Two years, and you still dance like a crippled cow. Well, you’re finished.” His voice now rose in volume. “You’re no longer the valuable commodity they all thought you were. Enjoy this little performance tonight, since it will be your very last.” Pure hatred contorted the Danced Master's face and his shrieking voice echoed off the walls of the studio. “I’m not even going to waste the boot on you, you worthless little oaf. You’re going to Expedition and Service. I just wish I could pull you from this performance immediately and send you there within the hour, but I still need you to fill the space, but no more,” he shouted. “After tonight, no more!”

At first Jamie stayed on the floor. Every boy studying under Sprague learned quickly to keep quiet and allow the dance master his tirade, as anything more always earned harsh punishment, but when Sprague said the words Expedition and Service, Jamie rose to his feet. He was sick of Sprague, sick of the abuse, the yelling, and the pain of the boot. As Sprague’s comments came to an end, Jamie looked the dance master squarely in the eye.

“Good,” he said quietly. “Maybe they’ll treat me better there.” And the icy glare he gave Sprague said it all.

Sprague’s eyes grew wide, and his face took on fearsome scowl. Not only had the boy talked back to him, he’d also given the Dance Master such an arrogant, insolent look that Sprague’s blood began to boil. Swinging his arm with all his might, he brought the palm of his hand slashing down across Jamie’s cheek. The sound of the slap reverberated throughout the room and at least half of the boys in the troupe shuddered. Knocked to the floor by the blow, Jamie looked up at Sprague. His first instinct was to put his hand to his cheek, his second was to let the tears he could feel building flow from his eyes, but he forced himself to remain motionless on the floor. Then as a painful looking red palm print began to bloom under his make-up, he looked back up at the dance master and gave Sprague the same defiant glare that had earned him the slap just moments before.

Sprague was livid, quickly closing the gap between himself and the boy. Moving rapidly, he had every intention of kicking the boy who’d been nothing but an arrogant, smart-mouthed, troublemaker from the first day he’d entered the dance master’s class, when suddenly the door of the practice studio burst open and the assistant stage manager came rushing into the room.

“You need to get them on stage NOW!” he sputtered breathlessly. “Trio Chrysalis can’t perform. Yves just twisted his ankle and can’t go on. We have to make other arrangements. Get the juniors on stage immediately so we can start to fill the time and try to prepare something with the senior troupe.”

Sprague appeared to hesitate, and was about to speak when he was cut off.

“This is not a suggestion, Dance Master,” the man said angrily, “You need to get them on stage now and have them run through the dance twice; it will give us a little time to see what can be done to remedy the situation.” Then, without waiting for a reply, the man rushed out of the room, muttering to himself.

At first Sprague stood there with a shocked look on his face, but it quickly faded. “You all heard him,” he shouted, regaining his composure. “Get up on stage this instant.”

Quickly the boys made their way from the bowels of the opera house to its majestic stage. The curtain had already fallen on the senor troupe’s first act and the juniors rushed onto the stage, taking their places. Jamie, still feeling the sting of Sprague’s hand, obediently took his place and prepared to assume first position, but he was angry, even angrier then he’d been in the hov when he and his friends had gone to see the Monastery of Infinity. Taking a deep breath he tried to clear his mind when suddenly a hand clamped down tightly on his shoulder. Flinching at the pain, he turned to see Sprague. The dance master never came on stage when they were setting up, even when the curtain was down. Instead he would stage whisper his threats and insults from one of the wings, but for the first time Jamie could remember Sprague was standing on stage next to him.

“You may be headed to Expedition and Service, boy,” he threatened in a loud whisper, “but I’m not finished with you. You’ll pay for your insolence.” And then he was gone, storming off stage as the music began to swell and the curtain came up.

The boys of the junior troupe stood ready. The curtain rose, the tempo of the music picked up speed, and the boys began their routine. But as they danced Jamie’s rage grew with every step, leap, and turn. For two years he’d suffered under Sprague; for two years, because of the dance master's treatment he’d been shunned by most of the other boys; for two very long years, Sprague had done everything possible to make him look like an idiot and an incompetent dancer in the junior troupe when boys far younger and less talented moved on to the senior troupe. Now, when this performance was over, he would be sent away to Expedition and Service, although not before some painful and probably humiliating punishment at the dance master’s hands. Two years wasted. Two years without accomplishing one thing.

It was then that Jamie took a misstep, or at least what anyone familiar with the junior troupe’s routine might think was a misstep. His temper was now in full control of his emotions, and in bold defiance Jamie broke from the troupe and moved away from the other dancers.

“I’ll really give him something to punish me for,” Jamie thought as he began to circle around the dancing boys of the junior troupe. “Maybe I’ll never perform here again, but I’ll show them I’m not the left-footed clod Sprague makes me out to be. And maybe, just maybe I’ll have better luck in Expedition and Service It may even be possible that I’ll finally be able to do what I must do. In any case it can’t be any worse than here.”

As the music continued, Jamie became bolder and more daring. He knew that this evening there was no special performance scheduled, and with Chrysalis' act scratched it would turn out to be a disappointing night for the audience who were, for the most part, the usual crowd. “I’ll give them a show,” he thought angrily. “Then for once – no, for the very first time – Sprague will be able to punish me for something I’ve actually done instead of something he’s made up.”

As his anger grew so did the height of his leaps, and the speed of his turns as he began to perform many of the moves he’d created during his sessions with Cristophe and his own private practice time. Finally, he added a few moves from Kalorian folk dancing, and in the end did just as he pleased, knowing it would be his last performance ever.

Occasionally his glance caught Sprague standing in the wings. The dance masters face was pale with rage, both hands clenched in fists, and a glare of pure hatred bloomed on his face. Jamie glared back. It seemed that he was feeding off of the Dance Master's rage. He could feel it, but instead of ignoring it he took it into himself and let it fire him. When the music stopped there was applause, but it was sparse. The audience appeared confused by what they’d just seen. Was this a new act? For years, the junior troupe had performed a standard series of routines. But this one, with a solo dancer performing with them, was totally different. Then the curtain fell, and instantly Sprague was at Jamie’s side.

“Go downstairs and change,” he said, his anger fading away as an evil smile formed on his face. “You have no idea what kind of trouble I’m going to make for you.”

Jamie didn’t care. Turning his back on Sprague he quietly followed the other boys back down to their dressing suite.

As soon as the junior troupe exited, one of the other stages that had already been reset was moved into place. During the junior performance it had been decided that since Chrysalis couldn’t perform, the senior troupe would do one of their standard numbers followed by the grand finale. It wasn’t the best choice, but under the circumstances it would have to do.

The senior troupe, gathered in the wings, rushed on stage as soon as the new set was moved into place. The music started and the curtain rose. Then, following the tempo of the music, the boys of the senior troupe began a graceful ballet. When they finished they would simply move into the grand finale and the evening’s performance would be over... except...

As the boys in the senior troupe began to dance, their performance was suddenly interrupted by a loud, metallic, clanging noise coming from somewhere out in the audience. It was so loud and incessant that the music died out as one by one the musicians stopped playing and put down their instruments. Suddenly the dancers were left in the awkward position of standing on stage and staring out into the theater without any music. The noise continued. It seemed to come from high up in the theater – possibly from one of its many mezzanines.

The house lights quickly came up and a collective murmur filled the house as, one by one, the audience turned to search out the source of the sound. As every head turned to the back of the theater, then upward toward the higher tiers of seats and every eye caught the source of the sound, silence fell over the crowd. It was then that a second sound joined the clanging, as in one great, sweeping move every person in the theater rose to their feet in respect and stood facing the source of the noise, for standing at the front rail of the imperial box was the Emperor himself, Enrick Arthur Darius Blackwell – Enrick the Thirty-First, banging his silver baton on the brass rail that enclosed the private imperial seats.

Ramrod straight and tall, the Emperor was attired in the crisp dress uniform of a field marshal of the Imperial Army. It was trimmed with gold braid, bright ribbons, and sported a tunic full of medals. A short officer’s cloak was draped over one shoulder. Around his neck, and across his shoulders was a thick golden chain, its links made up of alternating chain links and the stylized claws of a desert dog – one of the symbols of the imperial house. Attached to the chain and hanging from it was a large, golden, starburst-shaped amulet encrusted with jewels; in its center, on an enameled field of red, a large, stylized letter E had been fashioned with diamonds – The Imperial Order of Enrick the First.

At the Emperor’s side, and just a step behind him, stood a tall young avionne, no more than eighteen or nineteen commonwealth standard. He appeared vigilant and alert – a coiled snake, ready to strike. The belt wrapped around the boy’s tunic held a nasty looking knife, and while its hilt was jewel encrusted, the blade was sharp with scalloped edges that could quickly cut across a man’s windpipe or easily pierce his heart. The bulge of a small but quite deadly ghoster resting in a holster strapped around his right upper thigh and discreetly hidden by the bottom of his short tunic, could nevertheless be seen. Not so hidden was the long, thin dagger strapped to his lower leg. His long hair hung loosely down to his shoulders and his eyes were like those of a bird of prey as they constantly scanned and studied the audience now facing the Emperor.

Directly behind the Emperor in the imperial box stood the empress and a small retinue consisting of members from the inner circle of the imperial court. At least two dukes, a baron and four counts, along with their wives, stood toward the rear of the box. The empress, a placid look on her face, stood quietly before her throne-like seat. To her right stood the Emperor’s empty throne, and to the right of the Emperor’s seat stood the Archduke of Imperialas, Savaron Loka. Two young avionne boys, kitted in the livery of imperial pages, flanked the door of the box.

For a few more seconds, the Emperor continued to pound the brass rail with his baton. When it appeared that he’d finally gotten everyone’s attention, he stopped and calmly looked out across the audience to the stage where the confused senior troupe stood silent and motionless.

“Where’s the stage manager?” His Imperial Highness, Enrick the Thirty-First said in a strong, clear voice that carried throughout the theater. As he spoke, he banged his baton one final time against the brass rail for further emphasis.

Within a few seconds, a fearful looking stage manager appeared front and center stage as the dancers moved back, still bewildered and looking completely out of place.

“What manner of performance are you presenting tonight?” the Emperor asked. The stage manager swallowed and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get anything out more than a squeak, the Emperor continued, “We were engaged in a private dinner tonight in the imperial suite and decided to come in during the performance to see what you were doing. We were told that one of our favorites, the boys of Chrysalis could not perform, and we were most disappointed, but then we saw something very interesting: the junior troupe's performance. Tell us, who was the solo artist performing with them?”

The stage manager stared up at the imperial box, not sure what to say. “I... your Imperial... I... my Emperor, it's...”

“It’s a simple question,” the Emperor interrupted, sounding impatient and irritated. “Could you please tell us? Now!”

It was a simple question, but the truth was the stage manager had no idea who any of the boys from the junior troupe were. They were always the cute fill-in between acts, dancing until one of the other stages could be reset.

“Jamie... it’s Jamie...” the assistant stage manager said in a stage whisper to the red-faced stage manager. The younger man was hiding in the wings, but he’d heard Sprague call the boy by name as he’d pushed him off stage. He was sure it was Jamie.

“Uhh... your Imperial Highness... ah... the boy’s name... it’s, ah... Jamie.”

“Jamie what?” the Emperor asked now tapping his baton lightly on the railing. It gave out a ping, ping, ping sound that echoed through the theater.

“I’ll find out, sir... I mean, your imperial...”

“Well, do it man,” the Emperor said, sounding even more irritated. “Why do we patronize this institution if you can’t even tell us who your performers are?”

The stage manager scurried off stage and within thirty seconds he was back, standing in the glare of the house lights.

“James de Valčn, Imperial Highness. The boy’s name is James de Valčn.”

“You said it was Jamie... is it James, or Jamie?”

Thrown even deeper into confusion, the stage manager looked toward the wings with a frightened look on his face. Within seconds, the assistant stage manager came out and stood next to his supervisor.

“Your Imperial Highness,” he said, bowing deeply. “His name is James de Valčn, but he is known as Jamie.”

“Finally,” the Emperor said handing the baton to the Avionne boy at his side and gripping the brass railing with both hands, “Someone who can answer a simple question. I believe you, sir, should be the new stage manager,” he said a frown coming to his face. “And you,” he continued, now pointing to the stage manager, “you should be arrested for incompetence.”

The stage manager grew pale, his knees began to shake, and it suddenly looked like he was going to drop to the stage floor. Two men, obviously some type of guards, appeared at the back of the theater, walked quickly down one of the aisles and climbed the stage. Arriving at either side of the stage manager, they gripped him by his arms and led him off stage. This left the assistant stage manager on stage with the boys of the senior troupe, all of whom still looked a bit forlorn.

“de Valčn,” the Emperor said. “It has been a long time since that name has been...” But then the Emperor paused as Savaron Loka moved directly behind him and softly whispered in the imperial ear.

“Ah, yes,” the Emperor said, a smile coming to his face. Turning to Loka, he spoke to the archduke for a few minutes and Loka replied back in an inaudible whisper. When the two men were done, the Emperor turned back to the assistant stage manager.

“We command that this boy perform for us,” the Emperor said. “For once, we have seen something that catches our eye in this theater other than Trio Chrysalis.”

“Yes, Imperial Highness... of course... of course we will... we will... make sure he... appears the next time...”

“Next time?” the Emperor said frowning, and paused. Then in a measured tone of voice he continued, “You're confused. You see, when we asked if we could see him perform again, we meant right now... this evening... immediately. We assumed you got the message that we were placing you in charge, stage manager – unless, of course, you don’t feel up to the task. We can, if you prefer, arrange for you to join your former superior this very evening.”

“Ah... no... we will prepare him immediately, your Imperial....”

“Ah, good,” the Emperor called out, abruptly cutting off the man. “Then it’s settled. We will retire to our apartments and take our dessert. In one hour we’ll return and watch him perform.” Abruptly turning his back on the audience, the Emperor left the box with the Empress and his entourage quickly scurrying behind them.

After the Emperor left the theater, the air was electric as the crowd began to gossip and chatter. The new stage manager remained on stage trying to shout over the din. For a second he wished he could clang on the brass rail just as the Emperor.

“Everyone, please... please... everyone...” he kept shouting. When he was finally able to get a modicum of calm he continued, “We will have a one hour intermission, after which we’ll have a our final act – the dancer, James... uh Jamie... de Valčn. Please, if you could now retire to one of the lobbies, there will be complementary refreshments for everyone.”

At the words complementary refreshments, the audience began to quickly file out of the theater heading for the various salons and lobbies of the opera house. The new stage manager turned and dashed off the stage, shouting, “Where’s the boy? Get the boy!”

In the junior dressing room amidst the other boys, Jamie began to wipe the make up from his face, knowing that it would be the last time he’d ever have to be a wood sprite, or an elf, or a bee, or a stupid dragonfly. Pulling off his top, he threw it on the floor. Turning, he caught his reflection in the mirror. His left cheek had the beginning of a nasty bruise forming. There were still a few smears of makeup around his eyes and chin which he quickly wiped away, and although he’d rubbed his mouth vigorously, his lips still had the faint red glow of the red lip paint – something he hated almost as much as the goop sprayed on his wings. If Sprague was going to punish him, he’d at least get his wings washed before he faced the dance master.

Now just in his tights, dance belt and footwear he sat down and began to unlace his soft leather slippers. He’d just taken the first one off and was rubbing his toes when the door burst open. Three men, followed by a shouting Sprague, rushed into the room. Jamie looked up. “So,” he thought to himself, “Sprague couldn’t wait – he’s going to haul me away now. I won’t even get a chance to go back to the school and say goodbye to my friends.” But the men, who appeared breathless, came to an abrupt halt in front him, then paused and stared down at him with the most serious of looks as he continued to calmly rub his foot.

“Don’t take them off,” one of the men said, almost shouting. “You still have to dance.”

Jamie recognized the man as the assistant stage manager, the one who always came for the junior troupe when it was time for them to perform.

Just then Sprague, pushed in front of them. “Can you do a solo dance?” he asked, and Jamie could see that for the first time since he’d known the dance master, the man actually appeared afraid.

“I asked you a question,” Sprague demanded. “Can you do a solo?” But in the tone of his question Jamie could hear more of a pleading cry than a shout of anger.

“Yes... I could... if...”

“There’s no 'if,'“ the assistant stage manager said. “Either you can, or you can’t.”

“I can,” Jamie said.

“Then get upstairs and be ready to do one.”

“What are you talking...?”

“Just get moving. I’ll explain on the way up.”

Jamie stood up, one dance slipper dangling by its laces from the fingers of his hand while still wearing the second, and was led out the door by the assistant stage manager with Sprague, continuing to protest while following close behind.

By the time they reached one of the stage wings of the main theater, the stage manager had explained to Jamie what had happened after his performance with the junior troupe and what was now being asked – no, commanded – by none other than the Emperor himself.

More than a little confused, Jamie had listened to the assistant stage managers explanation, but remained silent.

“Can you really perform something?” the new stage manager asked once more in a most pitiful tone of voice, “Anything at all that will qualify as a dance?”

“Yes,” Jamie said softly as the reality of what was happening began to register in his mind. “I’ll dance a routine I’ve been working on for a long time now.”

Just then Sprague caught up with them. “It will be all our necks when he gets out on that stage; he’s completely unqualified for the senior troupe, let alone a solo performance.”

“Well, the Emperor didn’t command you to find him and get him to dance, now did he?” the man said desperately. “I don’t want to join the old stage manager in prison... or worse... in the arena of Rood against some beast or team of Gahdar.”

As the stage manger spoke, someone came running into the stage wing and crashed into his back causing him to stumble and almost fall over. A second later, Jamie saw that it was Lucas.

“Jamie, is it true?” Lucas said, running up to his friend. He and Jeremy had been in one of the backstage rooms with Yves ever since Yves had hurt himself. “Is it true you’re going to dance solo?”

“It appears so,” Jamie said, pausing when he caught sight of Jeremy helping a limping Yves. “What happened?” he asked, rushing up to the side of the two boys. “We were told Chrysalis wouldn’t be dancing tonight because you’d been injured.”

“It’s nothing,” Yves said, his left leg raised as he draped an arm around Jeremy’s neck and shoulder. “I was a stupid cow – I slipped in rehearsal and twisted my ankle. It hurts now, but it’ll be fine. I just can’t dance for a few weeks. But what’s more exciting is you,” he added, a smile coming to his face.

“What are you going to do?” Lucas said.

“Yes, what are you going to do?” Sprague said, frowning. “You can’t go out there and just jump around. You’ll be the ruin of us all.”

“You’ll do great,” Lucas interrupted, glaring at Sprague. “But what about your costume and make-up?”

Jamie ignored Sprague and his comments. But Lucas' questions brought a thoughtful look to his face and he turned to his three friends.

“Does anyone have a knife or scissors?” Jamie asked, and in a flash Lucas took off. “... and a make-up kit?” he called after his friend who’d already disappeared around the corner.

In less than a minute, Lucas returned with scissors from one of the costumers and a small make-up kit.

“Here,” he said, handing both items to Jamie. “But what about a costume?”

“I’m designing it right now,” Jamie said. He was already shirtless. Dropping the dancing slipper he’d been holding, he raised his left leg, pulled off the slipper he was still wearing, and tossed it aside. Bending over, he took the scissors and began to slash away the right leg of his tights just below the knee. Pulling away the excess material, he turned to the second leg and cut it just above the knee, leaving the bottom edge looking frayed and uneven. Quickly finishing he stood before his friends in what were now ragged and ripped tights. Opening the make-up kit, he turned to his friends,

“Help me put some of this on,” he said, picking up a jar of red base, and then pointing to a cake of black base in the kit added, “Mix these together and smear some of it on my chest and legs. Not too heavy, just enough to look like I’ve been in a fight.”

Jeremy dipped his hand his hand in the red and then the black make-up and began to put some on Jamie’s bare back; Lucas got busy as well, smearing a light amount on his friend's chest, then both boys bent down and did the exposed skin on Jamie legs and feet where he’d cut off his tights.

“I hate this wing paint,” Jamie said, “but for once I’m glad I have it on, since my natural wing color would kill the effect. Just get some of this stupid glitter off me.”

Both boys brushed at Jamie’s wings. What they couldn’t remove, they daubed with make-up. As Jamie’s friends helped him prepare, the stage manager, members of the stage crew and especially Sprague watched skeptically.

“So what will you dance?” Lucas repeated, now more insistently.

“You’ll see,” Jamie said, and a smile came to his face as he thought, “They’ll all see...”

“What about music?” Sprague called out. “He can’t dance without music.”

“Yes, music,” Jeremy said, jumping up after rubbing some of the make-up on Jamie’s bare feet. “You definitely need music.”

“Right,” Jamie said, breaking free of the group of people who’d gathered around him. Walking to the edge of the curtain and peering around it, he could see the orchestra sitting in the pit. The conductor was standing in front of them, engaged in quiet conversation. As he looked out into the house Jamie could see that while there were still a few people sitting in their seats, most of the theater was empty. Looking up, he noticed that the Imperial box remained empty as well.

Walking around the curtain, he went to the edge of the stage and stood in front of the orchestra pit. Just as he was about to say something to the conductor, he saw two corpus harps standing to the side, a harpist enclosed in each of them. A smile quickly came to his face when he recognized one of them as Gordan, the corpus harpist whose music he’d danced to in the settlement at Isewier almost two years before.

“Gordan,” he said, calling out to the Kalorian musician. “What are you doing here? I thought you were attached to the Duke of Drexos' house.”

“Jamie, hello! After all these years, it’s nice to see you,” Gordan said, smiling at the boy and giving him a small bow. “You’re right. I was, but the Duke of Drexos is the Emperor’s favorite nephew, and last year he gave me to the Emperor as a gift. The Emperor, in turn, has me on loan to the Mondele, but of course I also play for his private parties and personal entertainment.”

Jamie nodded his head and was about to speak when Gordan went on. “This is Egric,” Gordan said gesturing to the young man enclosed in the second corpus harp. Jamie wasn’t surprised to see that he, too, was a Kalorian.

“Egric is a fantastic harpist,” Gordan said. “He was already here when I came. We often play together.”

“I want you to play for me tonight.”

“Play for...?” Gordan paused, looked at the shirtless boy standing before him with torn tights and light smears of make-up on his exposed skin and a surprised look came to his face. “It’s you?” he finally asked softly. “We were told that we were going to play for a boy who was going to dance... the Emperor... he ordered it... you should have seen... we were playing for the seniors... and...”

“Yes, I know,” Jamie said, interrupting Gordan. “And yes, it’s me. I’m the boy who’s going to dance.”

“You mean you were that wood sprite doing all those amazing moves on the stage with the junior troupe...? Fata! I didn’t even recognize you. I must have been playing music for you to dance to for months now. I never knew...”

“Gordan,” Jamie interrupted again, “We don’t have time for that. What I need to know is if you will play for me right now?”

“Of course we will,” Gordan said, “Just tell the conductor...”

“No, I’m telling you,” Jamie interrupted. “I just want you and your friend. I want you both to play your harps. No other instruments.”


“No other instruments,” Jamie said firmly in a voice loud enough for the conductor and the other musicians to hear. “The two corpus harps will be perfect.”

Shrugging his shoulders, the conductor nodded. “If that’s what you want, we’ll retire. Gordan and Egric can remain here in the pit and accompany you. Come on gentlemen, you heard the little prima donna. He thinks he doesn’t need us... so we’ll wish you goodbye, and good luck.” And without any further discussion, the conductor and his orchestra exited the pit, leaving the two corpus harpists standing in their harps. Just as he had been when Jamie first saw him in Isewier, Gordan was almost naked... and so was Egric. In fact, they were wearing even less at the Mondele than Gordan had worn when he’d last played for Jamie.

Turning back and stepping close to the two men enclosed in their transparent harps, Jamie’s face took on a serious look, and his voice was quiet. “Gordan, I want you to play The Redak.”

At the boy's words, both men’s eyes widened. First they turned and looked at each other, then back at Jamie.

“Jamie... The Redak? The dance of the Kalorian rebellion... here... in the Mondele... in front of the Emperor? We can’t...”

“You can,” Jamie said, remembering Damian’s words after he’d heard him sing in the Petite Forum: “If you’re good, there are many liberties you can take.”


“Gordan, you’re a Kalorian,” Jamie said, speaking softly in the Kalorian language. “Are you afraid to let the world know that? Are you ashamed of Karkal Foss and his fight for freedom? His heroic death?”

“No, but...”

“But what?”

“The Emperor will have our heads,”

“No, he won’t,” Jamie said, then he paused and looked at both men giving them a cold hard stare. “Fine. If you’re afraid, then leave with the rest of the orchestra. I’ll see if there is a recording that can be played.”

“A recording? Of a corpus harp playing The Redak? I don’t think...”

“It doesn’t have to be a corpus harp,” Jamie said, “I don’t care if its played on wine bottles, but I do want The Redak.”

“Then I’ll do it,” Gordan said, his face turning pale, “If you're brave enough to do it, I am too. But Egric, you may leave. There’s no reason...”

“No, Gordan, I’ll join you,” Egric replied. His face looked even paler than Gordan’s, but filled with resolve and his nod was decisive. Jamie spoke quietly to the two men for a few minutes, giving them details of his ideas for the staging of his piece, and Gordon could be seen nodding enthusiastically. When all three knew what would be happening, Jamie smiled.

“Thank you,” Jamie said and then left them there, running back up the stairs to the stage and behind the curtain. When he returned to the spot where his friends were standing he suddenly stopped and put a hand to his head. “Oh no!”

Surprised at his outburst, his three friends gathered around him.

“It will be ok,” Yves said, limping on one foot as he put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “I know you’re probably scared, but...”

“No... no...” Jamie said, shaking his head with an anguished look on his face. “It’s not that. It's Cristophe – I can’t do this without him. I told him I wouldn’t unless he was watching... I promised.”

“What are you talking about?” Jeremy said.

“Cristophe! He needs to be here. I want him to see me dance – it's really important, and I promised!”

“Then he’ll be here,” Lucas said, once more taking off. “Just go on stage and dance,” he called out as he turned the corner. “He’ll be here. You have my word.”

After Lucas left, Jamie turned to the stage manager. “Get me a sword,” he shouted. Without pausing, Jamie turned to another of the men standing around him, this time the lighting manager, and began detailing what effects he wanted while he danced – minimal, due to the press of time of, but still critical.

The stage manager returned with a prop sword. It was made of wood, but designed and painted to look like the real thing. Jamie took it and hefted it in his hand.

“Perfect,” he said, smiling when he saw the puzzled look on the man’s face.

“You’d better get the real thing,” Sprague whispered, approaching the stage manager and scowling. “When he’s finished,” he added, nodding toward Jamie, “We’ll need something to throw ourselves on, before the Emperor has our heads.”

For a while nothing happened. The audience slowly made their way back into the hall, prompted by soft chimes. Hidden behind the curtain, a plain set without any scenery or props had moved into place as everyone but Jamie and his two remaining friends paced. When the house was once again full, there was the sound of a trumpet. With the orchestra now absent the sound had been created by Egric, the second corpus harpist. As the imperial party entered the royal box, the audience rose to their feet and stood, silent and respectful. Then the anthem of the Empire, played as a duet by both harpists, filled the theater while the Emperor, the Empress, and the imperial entourage stood quietly before the crowd.

When the anthem concluded, the Emperor came at the front rail of the imperial box and raised his baton in a greeting to the audience. They cheered and applauded, and the Emperor raised both the baton and his other hand to quell the cheers. Nodding in acknowledgement of their adoration, he turned and took his seat on the throne-like chair next to his empress. The audience turned back to the stage and sat. The house lights dimmed, and silence filled the great opera hall.

Standing in the stage wings just as the Emperor was accepting the cheers of the audience Jamie began to head out on stage, but then paused. In his right hand he held the sword, and although it was just a prop it looked quite real.

“How do I look?” he asked, turning around to face Yves and Jeremy.

“Like you were in a fight and lost,” Jeremy said, giving his friend an honest appraisal.

“Good,” Jamie said, smiling, “then I’ve already succeeded.”

He turned to go on stage, but stopped when Sprague called out to him.

“Your slippers, boy – get them on.”

“No slippers,” Jamie said, calmly turning his back on Sprague and padding bare foot onto the stage, leaving the speechless, open-mouthed dance master standing in the wings.

“Wait,” Lucas called out.

At the sound of Lucas' voice, Jamie turned around to see his friend quickly headed towards him. Face to face with Jamie, he surprised Jamie by reaching up to his face. A second later Lucas was peeling off the pointed tip pasted on Jamie’s ear. Finally twigging to what Lucas was doing, Jamie smiled, reached up to his other ear and removed the second tip.

“Now you're ready,” Lucas said, giving Jamie a quick kiss on the cheek.

The lights of the theater dimmed. The audience grew quiet and the curtain rose, revealing a darkened stage. For a few seconds nothing happened as a soft undercurrent of murmurs rustled through the audience. But it quickly ceased when a single spotlight sliced through the darkness and fell on front center stage to reveal a lone figure. The solitary boy occupying the stage stood with his feet apart, legs slightly bent, his head thrown back. His left hand rested defiantly on his hip, his right held a sword above his head and his sword arm was bent back as if he were about to strike a blow.

For a brief second Gordon stared at the frozen figure. Gone was the little boy who’d danced in pure joy for the Kalorians on his birthday. Standing at front center stage of the great opera house was a young man, strong and confident, talented and skilled, and just angry enough to prove himself sufficiently talented to dance a solo performance for the Emperor and his court.

Within seconds after the spotlight highlighted Jamie, Gordon turned to Egric, nodded, and the two corpus harpists jumped, spun and gyrated with astonishing flexibility inside their harps while their hands, arms, legs and feet flashed about them as if they were human-sized puppets pulled by invisible strings, twisting and turning in the clear, glowing tubes of their harps. And the harps answered their strange dance with sound, as the rolling, thunderous first chords of The Redak filled the theater, shaking the very pillars of the grand opera house to its foundations.

The instant the music began, Jamie leapt toward the edge of the stage swinging his sword and doing a dizzying spin which quickly dissolved into a series of fast paced leaps about the stage. Moving rapidly from the right side of the stage to the left, he effortlessly launched himself upward, executing a perfect grande capriole, thrusting his right leg into the air, his left leg following to beat against the right, sending it even higher. Landing cleanly, he took two running steps toward center stage and then did an amazing series of coupé jeté en tournant, performing one three-quarter turn with a grande jeté en avant after another in an ever-widening series of the en mančges circles that Cristophe had taught him.

The crowd was mesmerized, completely lost in the performance, as one spectacular movement followed another. But then, just as the audience was getting used to him moving about the stage like a spinning top, with a dramatic flexing of his wings and a powerful downward beat he was airborne and continued the dance in the air, battling his imaginary foes from every angle. With each move he gave the impression that he was fighting an army of men, dodging their swords while trying to land blows of his own. His gestures were fluid, his movements explosive and his stage presence commanding. Stroking his wings, gliding, turning, stroking again, then hovering and once more gliding, his large, darkly painted wings made him look like a bird of prey in hot pursuit of its victim.

Although mercilessly taunted by Sprague throughout two years of practice, as he danced, Jamie came close to a feeling of gratitude toward the sadistic dance master for his punishments. Years of wearing the boot had helped strengthen his wings and improve his endurance beyond any other dancer in either of the troupes. His extra practice sessions with Cristophe had given him poise and grace. His exercise regime had doubled the strength of his arms and legs. And although he was small and slim, the height of his leaps, the swiftness of his turns, and the forcefulness of his moves left no doubt as to the amazing strength that was coiled in the taut, toned muscles that flexed and bunched beneath the boy’s skin.

As he danced, the audience watched in fascination as his movements seemed first to defy, and then mock, gravity itself. But as both the audience and the Emperor and his imperial court became caught up in the incredible performance, something even more amazing was happening in the great opera house.

Unaware that Jamie’s command performance was about to begin Barbetta, head seamstress for the costume department and the mother of the crippled Kalorian boy Larrus, was working in one of the small sewing rooms on the lowest level of the opera house. A new opera was soon to premier, a retelling of the life of Emperor Enrick the First, founder of both the empire and dynasty that still ruled Altinestra. One of the grand scenes of the opera would be Enrick’s coronation as Emperor and Sun King. For the scene, the singer playing the role of the great ruler would be wearing a magnificent cloak. Fashioned from red velvet and trimmed with snowy white ermine, it was decorated with golden embroidery thread, and embellished with seed pearls and semi-precious stones.

The work was tedious and time consuming, but needed to be finished as quickly as possible so she’d been taking advantage of any available time to complete the task. Her extra efforts had paid off and she hoped that before this evening's performance ended it would finally be done. With just a small amount of stitching left, she carefully threaded her needle with the precious golden thread and began to work on the last ray of one of the many suns that embellished the cloak.

Barbetta had just begun pulling the needle up through the soft velvet fabric when the crashing sound of the dual corpus harps shook the building. Startled and surprised, she plunged the sharp needle into her finger, first crying out in pain and then uttering a loud curse. Dropping the needle, she looked down at her finger and saw that she’d drawn blood. Quickly setting the cloak over the back of a nearby chair so she wouldn’t soil it, she instinctively put the tip of her finger to her mouth, but as she tasted the warm salty blood oozing from the wound, she became aware of the music echoing through the opera house and instantly there was no doubt in her mind what melody the orchestra was playing. Getting up from her seat she ignored the cloak that had slipped off the chair and onto the floor. Crossing the room, she opened the door and peeked out.

The nether world of the opera house was always a bustle of activity when a performance was being staged, but she was unprepared for the sight that greeted her. Looking out into the hall she was surprised to see other Kalorians: stage hands, costumers, hair dressers, make-up artists, the men and women from the props, lighting and mechanical departments, all standing in groups and quietly listening to the music – to The Redak! There had been no mistaking the melody of the thunderous introduction from the moment the first crashing chord was sounded, but The Redak, in the opera house? It was impossible. After the initial shock, they all began to look at each other, some shaking their heads in disbelief, thinking that perhaps their ears were playing a twisted trick on them. Then, as if some irresistible force suddenly took control of their bodies, they all began to climb the many stairs, ladders and ramps that led to the main stage of the opera house.

Meanwhile, Jamie was interpreting dance in a way it had never been performed before in the Mondele. The stage had become his private world as he danced with abandon, by now forgetting even the audience that sat spellbound a few feet from him. People were on the edge of their seats, members of the nobility leaned over their private boxes to get a better look, and the royal court sat with expressions of amazement on their faces. And as they watched the young man dance, the wings of the stage slowly began to fill with an army of kalorians, jostling each other to get a better glimpse of the small avionne boy performing the wild Kalorian dance of rebellion and defiance. Little by little, the side doors of the performance hall opened and more kalorians snuck into the theater, standing at the ends of the aisles and along the back wall of the theater.

It was then that the music grew louder and filled the theater with chords of dissonance, and Jamie began the closing movement of the dance, signaling Karkal Foss’ final moments of life as his failed rebellion came to a tragic end. Copying the actions of a man being stabbed by an army of attackers, Jamie flailed and twisted in the air, mimicking each sword thrust with convincing skill. Finally his movements slowed and stopped, and he floated to the floor of the stage.

As the dance progressed, Jamie had been paying close attention to the ventilation system of the theater, waiting for it to cut in. When he felt its gentle breeze against his feathers, he made his final descent to the floor and stopped. Looking as if he were about to rest the toe of his extended right foot on the floor he stopped short before it made contact with the floorboards of the stage. At the same time he rotated his left leg back, parallel to the floor. Then he simply paused, suspending any further movement, and held a perfect flying arabesque. The music softened into a melancholic dirge and for one brief second the audience sat back catching their breath as they anticipated the conclusion of the dance, when as if on cue, those sitting in the front rows and the surrounding noble boxes began to gasp.

It has been years since a true flying arabesque had been performed at the Mondele and suddenly, before their astonished eyes, they were being treated to the most difficult dance move ever performed. The dirge continued. Four beats went by, followed by four more as the audience began to turn to each other and a murmur swept through the crowd. Four more beats followed and then another four while the boy held his position, floating motionlessly as if he were a solitary feather held in a gentle updraft. After twenty beats the audience began to applaud wildly, after thirty there was shouting and whistling. By the time forty beats passed they were in a frenzy, stomping their feet and screaming “Bravo!” It was then that Jamie turned ever so slightly, his head and his wings rising and his face twisted in a rictus of agony, giving the illusion that he’d been dealt the final deathblow as he ended the flying arabesque and melted slowly and bonelessly onto the stage floor. He lay motionless, as if dead; his wings completely covered him and the music faded. The dance was over.

For a few seconds there was total silence as Jamie lay still on the stage, his body hidden beneath his large wings. Remaining motionless on the stage floor, he was unsure what to expect. The silence was deafening, but then a second after he’d convinced himself he’d made a mistake, it hit him. The applause, the shouts, the whistles and the stomping of feet erupted in one thunderous roar like the concussion of a blast and rolled toward the stage. When it reached him, he felt as if he’d been hit by one of the large waves that often pounded the shore of Isewier. Slowly getting to his feet he stood and looked out into the house. The audience was in sheer pandemonium. Remembering an earlier time when he’d performed The Redak, Jamie extended his arms to either side of his body – his wings matching the movement – then stepping onto his right foot he lowered himself toward the stage floor in genuflection, his large wings parallel to his arms and the stage floor.

As he was rising from his bow, the audience jumped to their feet, growing even wilder as he repeated the bow. As he rose for the second time, he felt something hit him and jumped, fearing the worst, but when he looked down at the floor he saw that he’d been hit by a small bouquet of roses; another brush against his hand revealed a large irall flower laying at his feet and then suddenly it seemed the sky had opened in a great rainstorm as hundreds of flowers, bouquets and flower petals rained down on him – blooms meant for the aborted act of Trio Chrysalis.

As the flowers came, a particularly large bouquet landed on the stage and Jamie saw that it was a large cluster of Isewierian Inlet lilies – blooms from his homeland. Bending down he picked it up and held it above his head. Once more Jamie lowered himself to the floor in the grand, sweeping bow he’d practiced as a little boy and the applause continued. It was then, as he looked out into the audience, that he noticed a mob of kalorians standing in the back of the house. Looking into the right and then the left stage wings, he saw even more kalorians packed as closely as bees in a hive applauding, smiling, laughing – many with tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Turning first to the right wing, then to the left he repeated the bow, and still the applause and the flowers came. Bowing one final time he remained down on the stage floor as still as a statue, not quite sure what he should be doing. Remaining on one knee he waited, missing the commotion beginning to break out in the left stage wing as applauding and cheering Kalorians, some struggling to catch their balance, were pushed and jostled out of the way. Seconds later, Larrus burst on to the stage and quickly limped toward Jamie.

After his daily chores were completed, Larrus usually went to the small room he lived in at the dance academy, but on performance nights he often accompanied his mother to the Mondele and stood in one of the wings of the opera house watching the performance. Midway through Jamie’s dance Larrus, moving as quickly as his halting gait would allow, went to the sewing room his mother always used. He remembered she’d been working on the magnificent cloak. Entering the empty room he saw it laying on the floor, where it had fallen when his mother rushed from the room. Grabbing it, he haltingly made his way back up to the stage where he pushed his way through the crowd of cheering Kalorians, stepped on stage, and immediately made a beeline for Jamie, his Jamie, who was still bowed down on the stage floor. 

In one fast, sweeping move Larrus placed the sun cloak over Jamie’s shoulders, carefully draped it so it didn’t cover his wings, and fixed the clasp. Surprised at what had just occurred, Jamie stood and faced Larrus who limped off stage as quickly as he’d come on. Thinking it was part of the act, the audience roared their approval as Jamie stood before them regaled in the magnificent cloak. But then the applause came to a quick and abrupt halt as the clanging that had ended the senior troupe performance and caught the audience’s attention began once again. Turning around, all eyes went to the Emperor who was back at the brass rail of the royal box banging his baton unceremoniously against the polished metal railing. Beside him stood his young avionne bodyguard.

Once the audience was silenced the Emperor stopped and turned to Savaron Loka. The two men conversed quietly for a few seconds, then Loka motioned for one of the young avionne pages who’d been standing at the door of the royal box to approach. As soon as the boy was standing before the Emperor, Enrick the Thirty-first began to clutch at his hands; after a few seconds he handed something to the page. The boy jumped slightly and stroked his wings, quickly becoming airborne, and then smoothly glided from the royal box down to the stage and made a gentle landing next to Jamie.

Holding out his hand, the page presented something to Jamie. Jamie reached out and took the object – opening his hand, he saw it was a ring. Sparkling in the lights on the stage was a flawlessly clear blue sapphire. The beautiful stone resting in the palm of his hand was surrounded by a circle of small, perfectly matched diamonds – all set in a simple gold setting. It must have come from the Emperor’s smallest finger since Jamie found that it fit perfectly on the slender middle finger of his right hand. Staring up at the royal box he saw the Emperor and the royal court looking down at him. The face of the tall young Avionne standing next to the Emperor held a grave and serious expression and his piercing eyes looked upon Jamie with a cold, steady gaze. Once the ring was on his finger, Jamie once again bowed, but his stage presence made it clear to everyone in the theater that this bow was strictly for the Emperor.

“We will return next week, and look forward to seeing you perform once more,” the Emperor said, his voice carrying across the open expanse of the theater.

Unsure what to do Jamie stood uncomfortably for a few seconds when something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He tuned toward the wing on the left side of the stage. Sitting there with huge smile on his face was Cristophe. Quickly seeing Jamie’s discomfort, he motioned for him to bow once more. Jamie performed one final bow to the Emperor, and then to the audience as he arose the recently promoted stage manager appeared next to him.

“Yes, your Majesty,” the man said as Jamie arose from his bow. “He will be performing next week.”

No sooner had the stage manager spoken then the Emperor abruptly turned his back on the stage, and audience. With his young Avionne bodyguard at his side, the Emperor strode back to into the imperial box. He quickly brushed past his retinue, and while he gave them no notice or acknowledgement, each man and woman bowed or curtsied deeply as he passed. Without pause he took the steps that rose to the rear door of the box and walked through the door held open by the second page. Leaving quickly on the heels of the Emperor, the empress followed suit. A few seconds later the imperial box began to empty as the Emperor’s party departed. Upon seeing their ruler’s exit, the nobles occupying the royal boxes circling the outer perimeter of the opera house quickly gathered their belongings and departed. When the general audience realized that the evening’s performance was concluded, they too began to leave, heading toward the doors at the rear of the theater to the usual din of talking, laughter, and shuffling of feet.

At the departure of the Emperor, the avionne page stroked his wings, flew back to the imperial box, and joined the second page who was following behind the imperial retinue. The newly named stage manger scurried off the stage leaving Jamie alone, but not for long. As the theater cleared, Lucas, followed by Jeremy, and a limping Yves, came out onto the stage. Cristophe followed behind them in his chair, along with a number of the Kalorians who’d watched Jamie’s performance.

After the hugs, kisses, thanks, and congratulations Cristophe reminded the boys that the evening was concluded and it was time to return to the school. The next day was a day six and while normally there would be a matinee and evening performance, with Trio Chrysalis unable to perform, a new performer to prepare and a new act to create, it had been quickly decided that the next day’s performances would be cancelled and for the first time in many years the day six that would soon begin in a few hours would be one of rest for the staff of the opera house and its dancers. Jamie, still clutching the bundle of Isewierian Inlet lilies, bid farewell to the stagehands and crew of the Mondele before joining his friends as they prepared to exit the theater.

Upon leaving the theater, the boys, accompanied by Cristophe, returned to the school – although their journey back was loud and boisterous as Jeremy, Lucas and Yves carried on a second by second commentary of what had occurred before Lucas had come to get Cristophe and bring him to the theater. At the school, after one final round of hugs and congratulations, the boys of Trio Chrysalis walked to the senior dormitory leaving Jamie and Cristophe outside the door of the junior dormitory. Holding open the door, Jamie let Cristophe enter, then they took the lift to their floor. Once they were outside Jamie’s door they paused.

“Truly amazing,” Cristophe said, smiling as he sat looking up at Jamie. “Thank you for making sure I didn’t miss it.”

“Never,” Jamie said. Bending down he kissed Cristophe on the cheek and then hugged him as tightly as he could. “And thank you... for everything.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for,” Cristophe said. “I can’t create talent where it doesn’t exist, or dampen it when it’s exceptional.”

“You know what I mean,” Jamie said breaking the hug then rising to stand over Cristophe. “Without you...” tears came to Jamie’s eyes, but having cried in front of Cristophe many times before he was unembarrassed and he continued as the tears freely flowed down his cheeks. “Without you Cristophe, none of this would... could have ever happened. I would have given up a hundred... no a thousand times. If it weren’t for you I don’t know what I’d have done. So I say to bloody hell and back with the emperor, his lapdog nobles, and even the audience. That dance was for you and no one else.”

Cristophe remained silent, but the smile he beamed at Jamie was the greatest gift Jamie’d received that evening.

Smiling back through his tears he reached up and began wiping them away using the sleeve of his tunic, then turning he prepared to enter his room.

“So are you ready for this?” Cristophe said.

Taking his hand from the door handle, Jamie looked over his shoulder to Cristophe. “Ready for what?”

“You’ll see,” Cristophe said, still smiling.

The door to Cristophe’s room opened and one of the young Kalorians who assisted Cristophe asked if the master prefect was ready to prepare for bed. Cristophe replied that he was, and began to move his chair toward the young man.

Puzzled by his friend’s remark, Jamie quickly walked back to Cristophe, bent down and gave the master prefect one final kiss good night before the boy entered his room, then Jamie turned and headed to his own room. Quickly stripping to his dance belt, he took a towel from his dresser and headed to the baths. The hall was peacefully silent as he padded along, and he realized that for the first time ever after a performance he was alone. Normally upon returning to the school, the halls would be shear pandemonium – abuzz with shouts and laughter as the members of the junior troupe stripped, bathed and prepared for bed. But as was the custom, the other juniors had long since left the theater following their performance and, after cleaning up and preparing for lights out, were now tucked in their beds.

The baths echoed strangely with the sound of his solitary ablutions, but Jamie didn’t mind as he took a long time soaking under the shower and washing the makeup from his body and wings. When he was done, he dried off, wrapped the towel around his waist, and returned to his room. As he walked through the doorway he glanced at the bouquet of Isewierian Inlet lilies lying on his desktop and through of his home, now so far away in distance and time.

Stripping off his towel, he tossed it into the corner of the room. As he pulled on his sleep shorts and prepared for bed, he felt strange – both tired and energized. After dropping down on the edge of the bed, a sparkling flash of light caught his eye. Glancing down, he realized he was still wearing the beautiful diamond and sapphire ring given to him earlier by the Emperor. After staring at it for a minute he slowly removed it, rose from his bed, then crossed the room, and placed it on his desk next to the bouquet of lilies. Returning to his bed he turned off the lamp.

Light from the two moons coming through the high, narrow windows gave his room a soft glow. Folding back his wings he lay on his side facing the wall he and Cristophe shared. For a few minutes he stared at the wall, recalling the remarkable events of the past few hours. Not sure whether to be happy or worried, he made a fist and gently rapped three times on the wall. The three soft and muffled raps that came from the other side were reassuring. Jamie closed his eyes and quickly drifted off to sleep.